Saturday, September 26, 2009
“Whereas youth on the left came into ascendancy during the 1960s and early 1970s, the other wing of this generation came into prominence during the mid-1970s and 1980s and began to take over the seats of institutional power. The 1960s must be seen, then, within this larger context: not only as fostering protests on the left, but also as nurturing a new generation of leaders on the right. Much of the conservative backlash of the 1970s and 1980s was led by people of the same age as leftist activists, not the older generation.” In A Generation Divided, Rebecca Klatch argues that whereas the story of the New Left has been told many times (though still not adequately), “the untold story of the 1960s is about the New Right.” In order to provide a more balanced perspective, she presents a parallel history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), the leading youth organizations of, respectively, the left and the right. Klatch borrows from Karl Mannheim’s essay “The Problem of Generations” to claim that members of the SDS and YAF shared a common generational experience that was worked up differently because of their different social backgrounds. In other words, a generation is composed of “separate and even antagonistic generation-units,” which, importantly, are partially shaped by their orientation toward each other. Klatch’s sociological approach is on rather theoretically dubious grounds when it attempts to reduce politics to the “realization” and “affirmation” of identity. The academic neutrality that makes her project possible is openly a-political, but arguably also anti-political. Despite these and other problems with the book, A Generation Divided offers a helpful history of the conservative organizations and ideologies that have come to dominate the contemporary political landscape. The Cold War was responsible for the founding of YAF. The Soviet launching of sputnik in 1957 led Eisenhower to set up a program that offered loans for science education but also required a controversial loyalty oath. In support of the program, a group of young students on the right formed the National Student Committee for a Loyalty Oath. In 1960, this group organized a conference at the estate of William F. Buckley with the goal of creating a national conservative youth organization. Klatch makes much of the fact that “YAF began in 1960, the same year as Students for a Democratic Society.” Growing quickly after its inaugural 1960 convention, SDS initially focused on civil rights issues. Tom Hayden was put in charge of drafting a statement for the 1962 conference in Port Huron, Michigan, and the result was the famed Port Huron Statement, one of the most widely read documents of the 1960s left. Klatch attempts to position the Sharon Statement as the right’s equivalent to the Port Huron Statement. The Sharon Statement was drafted for the conference as Buckley’s estate in Sharon, Connecticut. The document affirmed “the transcendent values of individual free will and liberty; the inextricable bond between economic and political freedom; the purpose of government as protecting freedom through preservation of internal order, national defense, and the administration of justice; the genius of the Constitution, especially the clause reserving primacy to the states; and the market economy as the single system compatible with freedom. . . . Communism is named as the greatest threat to liberty.” When the statement was read at the conference, it received a standing ovation. Klatch emphasizes SDS was heavily concerned with racial inequality, whereas YAF simply didn’t address it: “While for YAF liberty was of supreme import, for SDS equality was of utmost concern.” But there were similarities between the SDS and YAF in their early years. Both groups “expressed suspicion toward large-scale organization,” and during “these early years SDS even expressed limited support for free enterprise and democratic capitalism.” During the early 1960s, both groups, despite their sense of alienation from the mainstream, “were still oriented toward mainstream politics. . . . each believed in changing society through reforming its institutions.” The right was more willing to recognize these shared traits: “Although certain members of YAF recognized common ground with SDS, all the commentary by SDS members was critical of YAF.” Each group was propelled into “becoming political” by different factors: “For SDS activists, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were the primary factors instituting action, while for YAF activists the 1964 Goldwater campaign and anticommunism were the main impetuses to action.” Klatch adds, “Goldwater’s campaign acted as a beacon for young conservatives much in the way the civil rights movement did for young leftists.” Conservatives were excited by Goldwater’s individualism and apparent “challenge to the establishment.” Goldwater’s campaign was central to the building of a national Republican force that would result in victories by Nixon and Reagan. YAF activities included: “anti-Communist action, such as organization of consumer boycotts against corporations selling products to Eastern Europe or in support of ‘captive nations’; activities to support the war in Vietnam including campus demonstrations, shipment of medical supplies and reading material to Vietnam, and education around the war; activities to counter the left on campus, for example, counter-demonstrations, support for ROTC, and recruitment of conservative faculty; involvement in electoral politics including the Goldwater campaign as well as other national and local candidates; and educational activities such as speakers’ bureaus and work on local or national YAF publications.” The traditionalist side of the young conservatives rarely swerved from its political position, and “the ostracism traditionalists increasingly faced as the 1960s progressed merely acted to reaffirm their beliefs, further binding them to the conservative cause.” One YAF member, ignorant of the irony, even compared conservatives to racial minorities: “to be a young conservative in the sixties was to be . . . an untouchable, a pariah, a Jew in Syria, a black in South Africa.” As is well known, the left became increasingly radicalized as the decade went on. More surprisingly, conservative libertarians also became radicalized during the period, leading to a paradoxical convergence of left and right. “This overlap between the left and right speaks to the peculiarities of American political ideology. Specifically, an affinity for values such as individual freedom, the impulse against bureaucracy and big government, the questioning of centralized authority, and the embrace of decentralization and local control are common to both left and right.” Many libertarians became opposed to the draft because it interfered with individual liberty and joined with the left in protesting the Vietnam War. “Although libertarians took a strong stance against the war, unlike their leftist counterparts they believed that both the North and South Vietnamese camps were corrupt.” “Accompanying this turn against government, by the end of the decade over half of libertarians [interviewed by Klatch] shifted their identification, using the term ‘anarchist’ to describe themselves politically.” The counterculture was another issues that split both the SDS and YAF and led to surprising convergences between them. “A portion of activists in both groups rejected the counterculture, dismissing it as self-indulgent and destructive, while another portion in each organization embraced this youth movement. For libertarians in YAF the counterculture offered a means to reformulate beliefs, provoking radicalization that forged further bonds with their counterparts on the left.” Libertarians were open to the counterculture because it “symbolized individual freedom, liberty of the mind and spirit. It also represented a stance against institutions, being critical of the system.” Drug use particularly split the right, with traditionalists condemning it and libertarians arguing it was a matter of individual choice. As is well known, the SDS exploded at its 1969 convention, which gave birth to the Weatherman. The traditionalists and libertarians also broke out into conflict at the 1969 YAF convention. The draft was the dividing issue. The traditionalists adopted Goldwater’s plan for “a volunteer army and the gradual abolition of the draft,” whereas the libertarians supported “active resistance to the draft by legal or illegal evasion.” As the disagreement unfolded, one libertarian burned his draft card on the stage, an act the traditionalists found scandalous and were furious about. Later in the evening, the libertarians that hadn’t already left were driven out when traditionalists began chanting “Kill the libertarians!” The expelled libertarians immediately began to set up contacts with the SDS, creating an organization called the Society for Individual Liberty (SIL). The traditionalists soon after “systematically purged libertarians from YAF” and resolved that anarchism was inconsistent with the Sharon statement. This split in the right gave birth to the libertarian movement, and the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971. During the 1970s, the left, both above ground and underground, continued to operate outside of the mainstream of society and politics. Traditionalists instead “became integrated into mainstream politics. Using the skills and resources they acquired through their activism in YAF, as adults they worked for conservative causes within mainstream institutions.” “While leftists were protesting on the streets, dropping out of school, and stepping off professional career paths, traditionalists were building up their ‘career capital’ by accumulating skills and experience that were stepping stones for employment in mainstream institutions.” The “traditionalists acquired positions of political power during the 1980s and 1990s as the conservative wing of the 1960s generation ascended to power, forming an influential new movement, called the New Right.” “In contrast, the main base for leftists and libertarians has been colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. Their influence comes mainly through teaching and scholarly research, rather than through traditional political means.”
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Outlaws of America is a sympathetic but critical history of the Weather Underground, the post-'68 militant Leftist organization that bombed numerous government and corporate institutions in the United States. Radicalizing the Left, the Weather Underground took as their model Third World revolutionaries from Cuba and Vietnam and viewed their actions as a form of solidarity with the struggle of the Third World. The history of the Weather Underground begins with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the most important Leftist organization in the country during the 1960s. The SDS was strongly affected when the civil rights oriented Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1966 asked its white members to leave and focus on organizing their own white communities. The Black Panthers quickly established themselves as the most dynamic realization of the SNCC’s call for Black Power and altered the framework of the civil rights movement. “SNCC, the Panthers, and other revolutionary Third World groups in the United States connected anti-racist struggle domestically with the war in Vietnam as emanating from the same system of white supremacy and capitalism – of imperialism. This political articulation pushed SDS forward with a more radical antiwar (and specifically anti-draft) program.” Berger claims that the SDS’s call to “fight the system” was not a vague countercultural impulse but rather a coded identification of U.S. imperialism as the enemy. Of the numerous influences on the SDS and the Left during those years, Berger singles out Che Guevara’s “foco theory,” popularized in Régis Debray’s Revolution in the Revolution?, which argued that attacks by a small guerilla band could inspire the people into rebellion. The occupation of Columbia University in 1968 and the brutal repression of the protest proved to many demonstrators that both the university and the government were anti-democratic institutions. According to Berger, state repression, from that witnessed at Columbia to the FBI’s attack on the Black Panthers and other Left groups through COINTELPRO, was a decisive force behind the increasing militancy and violence of the Left. The SDS dissolved and the Weatherman began to form during the former's 1969 convention. Within the SDS, the Maoist Progressive Labor Party (PL) strongly opposed all nationalism, including that of the Black Panthers, and emphasized working class issues. Opposed to the PL was the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), which prioritized anti-racism and “pledged solidarity with Black and other Third World struggles.” At the 1969 SDS convention in Chicago, the RYM were behind an article published in a special convention issue of New Left Notes that was titled “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows.” The article, whose title was taken from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “called for a ‘white fighting force’ in alliance with anti-colonial struggles, especially the Black Liberation Movement in the United States, and focused heavily on white working class youth as agents for change, when aligned in solidarity with the national liberation movements. The statement’s support for the Black Panthers and the Vietnamese, as well as its critique of white workers as being corrupted by imperialism, put it at odds with the politics of PL.” Berger explains, “the ‘Weatherman’ statement brazenly asserted that revolution was clearly on the horizon and was being led by national liberation movements. It was a roll call: white revolutionaries needed to support those movements by making their own revolution in the United States.” As the convention progressed, the PL and RYM came into direct conflict, with the latter eventually walking out of the convention (or at least into a separate room), effectively killing the SDS. “Weatherman/SDS from the beginning was committed to building an all-white organization that would ‘bring the war home’ in solidarity with Third World struggles.” The Weatherman collectives hoped that militant action would help recruit working class youth into the movement. Yet Weatherman’s first year was marked by macho confrontations and ill-conceived violence, from street fighting to aggressive occupations of institutions. Berger claims that the results included not just “alienating would-be supporters but even recruits and developing cadre.” The Weatherman planned to take over an SDS demonstration during October of 1969. But at what the news dubbed the “Days of Rage,” far fewer protesters appeared than had been expected. Despite their low numbers, those who showed up proceeded with what Berger calls a “planned street fight” and began to break building windows and charge straight into a police barricade, at which point the police began beating and even shooting protesters. By the end of the Days of Rage, 300 people had been arrested and eight shot by the police. Berger situates Weatherman in a larger culture of political violence, noting that other organizations set off dozens of bombs in the U.S. during the same year. He claims “the difference between Weatherman and others from SDS was often just a couple of months – what Weather was doing at one point was accepted by broader swaths of people shortly thereafter.” The boldness of Weather resulted in arrests and legal expenses that pushed the movement towards the underground: “With its flashy actions and confrontational protests, the group had made going underground almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Weather firebombed some police cars in response to the murder of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, held one last “War Council,” and then announced its decision to go underground. In early 1970, three members of the Weather Underground were killed in their townhouse when a bomb they were building went off. This tragedy was politically fortuitous, pushing the Weather leadership to emphasize the use of violence against property, not people. Berger claims that Weather activities such as bombings were to function as “armed propaganda.” A bomb set off soon after in a New York City police station injured, but not seriously, seven police officers, but after that, according to Berger, “no one else was injured by Weather Underground bombing in the ensuing seven years.” In September of 1970, Weatherman Underground helped free Timothy Leary from a minimum security prison, an act later criticized by Weatherman members for its deviation from the fight against imperialism and racism. Jeff Jones argues that the bombings were not done for media attention. Instead, the bombings were “themselves a form of media,” and the Weather’s actions could be characterized as “militant political theater.” Life underground was difficult, but Weather had an exceptional support network on the Left that allowed it to avoid turning, like many other underground groups did, to bank robberies and “armed expropriation.” The Weather Underground soon bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. The organization began to target corporations involved in the arms industry and imperialism when it bombed International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT). The rise of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), which famously kidnapped and added to its membership Patty Hearst, made the Weather Underground suddenly “the ‘moderate’ revolutionary alternative.” Weather was critical of but sympathetic to the SLA, and bombed the office of the California attorney general in response to the murder of some SLA members. After 1970, the group's communiqués “were press packets, often seven or eight pages long and as slick as the press releases of the corporate or government agencies being attacked.” Eventually, these communiqués became independent of the group’s actions. Through an underground printing press and distribution network, the Weather Underground published in 1974 a collectively authored book, Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. Beginning in 1975, the Weather Underground also began publishing a journal, Osawatomie, and Berger even claims that “the WUO’s clandestine life in the mid-to-late 1970s consisted largely of media productions.” But such activities also led to questions about the need to stay underground: “Exploring the range of clandestine possibilities was a positive development, but the group now found itself doing entirely legal things with the rigmarole of clandestinity, which made them all the more expensive and time consuming.” Even worse, at the Hard Times Conference in 1975, the Weather Underground’s slow shift toward supporting a “multinational working class” led to severe critique from black, women’s, and Third World groups. These external criticisms – which the Left still faces today - were echoed by criticisms from within that fragmented the organization. Members began surfacing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but with little persecution: “Most WUO members who surfaced did little jail time. In its zeal to catch them, the FBI had cut too many corners and broken too many laws. Many charges had to be reduced or dropped altogether, including the two major federal conspiracy indictments, which were dropped due to government misconduct. Most of the Weather Underground members who surfaced between 1976 and 1980 received fines and probation.” After attacking the group’s Leninist democratic centralism, which stifled internal dissent, Berger concludes, “the impact of Weather is not to be judged by its military or economic damage, which was admittedly tiny. Instead, its impact was in broadening the contours of struggle and adding to the range of responses to U.S. imperialism –a moral, pedagogical, and militant form of guerilla theater with a bang.”
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
"Singularity, autonomy, and freedom are the three banners which unite in solidarity every struggle against the capitalist and/or socialist orders. From now on, this alliance invents new forms of freedom, in the emancipation of work and in the work of emancipation." Communists Liks Us is a defense of communism and a relatively early explication of the idea of autonomy for non-Italian readers. Its political intervention and theoretical advances misunderstood or ignored when first published, Communists Like Us faces the opposite problem today: the surge of Negri translations and works on Autonomia has drained the book of much of its intended force. However, the book remains singular in its hybridization of conceptual lexicons: autonomy is quite directly identified with (or reduced to) "molecular movement" throughout the book, and the concepts Guattari developed with Deleuze - notably deterritorialization and reterritorialization - play, for the better or the worse, a greater role here than in most of the rest of Negri's writings. At the book's outset, Guattari and Negri state that their aim is "to rescue 'communism' from its own disrepute." Writing prior to the collapse of real socialism, they seek out a communism that would escape from the capitalist/socialist dichotomy of the Cold War. For them, communism is "the collective struggle for the liberation of work." Work must become "a project and a process of liberation." In contrast to the Soviet model of state economic planning and to the capitalist subordination of work to control and calculation, the work process must become autonomous. Communism is more than "just the sharing of wealth . . . it must inaugurate a whole new way of working together." As Negri often repeats in his books, communism involves "the creation of a new subjective consciousness born of the collective work experience." But this subjective consciousness is not some homogeneous or inevitable class consciousness. Nor is it the official ideology of any party or state. "Communism has nothing to with the collectivist barbarism that has come into existence. Communism is the most intense experience of subjectivity, the maximization of the process of singularization." Collective consciousness is the ongoing "nodal articulation of a multitude of marginalities and singularities." There is a complex "weaving" of "molecular struggles for liberation" that would be difficult to order into a "single historical sequence." Somewhat problematically, Guattari and Negri obviously use the history of Italy and Autonomia in the 1970s to analyze communism, but they refuse to go into any details. Their book is therefore greatly assisted by being read alongside the more concrete discussions collected in the semiotext(e) reprint of Autonomia. Perhaps groping toward a concept of Empire or at least of the capitalist world-system, Guattari and Negri argue that the international integration of economies has generated "Integrated World Capitalism" (I.W.C.), an awkward term that reflects the book's unclear analysis of globalization. Guattari and Negri demand "the destruction of all ideologies of an external vanguard" while defending their ideas from the accusation of anarchism (I presume this argument was lost on many non-Italian readers at the time). Clearly the Red Brigade is in mind when they denounce "an ossified leninism, which is disconnected from all historical materiality, reduced entirely to a statist interpretation, a sort of paranoid point of reference which it sought to impose on the recomposition of the movement." They also dismiss representative government and the desire to acquire state power through revolution: "We refuse everything which repeats the constitutive models of representative alienation and the rupture between the levels where political will is formed and the levels of its execution and administration." This attack is extended to the socialist parties/unions that historically compromised with the state and the interests of capital and that ended up reproducing the state's representative form. Instead of terroristic vanguardism or parliamentary participation, Guattari and Negri affirm a "radical materialism," a materialism that is irreducible to economism or anarchist spontaneity. They claim that "only a continuous and multidimensional revolution can constitute an alternative to the failed projects of archeo-socialism." "From now on, organizing signifies first: work on oneself, in as much as one is a collective singularity: construct and in a permanent way re-construct this collectivity in a multivalent liberation project. Not in reference to a directing ideology, but within the articulations of the real." In particular, we need to break with the ideology of the "workers' centrality" to revolutionary struggle, though of course "molecular revolutions, the new subjective arrangements, autonomies and processes of singularization are capable of restoring a revolutionary meaning to the struggles of the working class." Guattari and Negri add: "Think, live, experiment, and struggle in another way: such will be the motto of a working class which can no longer perceive itself as 'self-sufficient' and which has everything to win by renouncing its arrogant myths of social centrality."
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Whatever happened to critique? As a restructured capitalism subjects workers to the inhuman demands of outsourced, flexible, just-in-time production and finance capital and multinational corporations cause havoc across the globe, critique has seemed completely unable to put up any resistance. Boltanski & Chiapello (B+C) claim: “For now, the critical apparatuses to hand offer no wide-ranging alternative. All that remains is raw indignation, humanitarian work, suffering turned into a spectacle, and . . . action focused on specific issues.” This default of critique and the fatalism it generates threatens capitalism itself, since “capitalism will face increasing difficulties, if it does not restore some grounds for hope to those whose engagement is required for the functioning of the system as a whole.” This is because, “In many respects, capitalism is an absurd system: in it, wage-earners have lost ownership of the fruits of their labour and the possibility of pursuing a working life free of subordination. As for capitalists, they find themselves yoked to an interminable, insatiable process, which is utterly abstract and dissociated from the satisfaction of consumption needs, even of a luxury kind. For two such protagonists, integration into the capitalist process is singularly lacking in justifications.” “To maintain its powers of attraction, capitalism therefore has to draw upon resources external to it, beliefs which, at a given moment in time, possess considerable powers of persuasion, striking ideologues, even when they are hostile to it, inscribed in the cultural context in which it is developing.” According to B+C, the “spirit of capitalism” is this “ideology that justifies engagement in capitalism.” Capitalism has only survived because it has been able to rely on such justifications, which are strong enough “to check, or overcome, the despair or nihilism which the capitalist order likewise constantly induces – not only in those whom it oppresses but also, on occasion, in those who have responsibility for maintaining it and, via education, transmitting its values.” Liberal (and neoliberal) economics has offered various ideological justifications for capitalism, from claims about how capitalism generates material progress to praise for the efficiency of capitalist production to blunt equations of capitalism and freedom. But liberal and neoliberal dogma are not sufficient to constitute a spirit of capitalism: “precisely by virtue of their very general and stable character over time, these reasons do not seem to us to be sufficient to engage ordinary people in the concrete circumstances of life, especially working life, or to equip them with the resources in terms of arguments that allow them to face the condemnation or criticism which might be personally addressed to them on the spot.” B+C outline three major spirits of capitalism. The first lasted from the end of the nineteenth century to around the 1930s and “focused on the person of the bourgeois entrepreneur and a description of bourgeois values” and was suited to “familial forms of capitalism.” The second spirit of capitalism was developed between the 1930s and 1960s and focused “less on the individual entrepreneur than on the organization” and was suited to the era of large, hierarchical corporations. Though B+C don’t mention it, the “organization man” discussed in the U.S. in the 1950s would perfectly exemplify this spirit. The third spirit of capitalism is still developing, but “will have to be isomorphic with a ‘globalized’ capitalism employing new technologies.” B+C add, “the formation of a third spirit of capitalism . . . will depend largely upon the interest multinationals, which are currently dominant, have in the preservation of a peaceful zone at the centre of the world system, maintained as a breeding ground for cadres, where the latter can develop, raise children, and live in security.” B+C argue that critique is a key element in the generation of the spirit of capitalism: “the redeployment of capitalism creates new problems, new inequalities, new injustices: not because it is inherently unjust, but because the question of justice is not pertinent in the framework within which it develops – the norm of capital accumulation is amoral – unless critique compels it to justify and control itself.” Critique has impacted the spirit of capitalism in three ways. First, critique can “delegitimate previous spirits and strip them of their effectiveness.” “A second effect of critique is that, in opposing the capitalist process, it compels its spokesman to justify that process in terms of the common good.” A third and troubling effect of critique is that capitalism may displace itself and create new arrangements that elude the categories of critique, which finds itself badly adapted. B+C divide critique into two camps: “social critique (associated with the history of the working-class movement, and stressing exploitation) and what we have called the artistic critique (derived from intellectual and artistic circles, especially nineteenth-century Parisian Bohemia, this takes the dehumanization of the capitalist sphere as its particular target).” B+C refuse to choose one of these two camps over the other, but they are sensitive to how in recent years capitalism has "exploited the differential between the social critique and the artistic critique." B+C argue that management literature is “one of the main sites in which the spirit of capitalism is inscribed.” Management literature is prescriptive and disseminates “normative models in the world of enterprise.” While management literature does not always accurately describe the reality of corporate capitalism, such literature cannot be dismissed as ideological (in the sense of falsity) since the norms it popularizes do lead to new mechanisms within firms. B+C therefore compare the management literature of the 1960s with that of the 1990s in order to identify changes in the spirit of capitalism. Most of this literature is French, and it is arguable that U.S. management literature developed a new spirit of capitalism at a slightly faster pace. Readers interested in the specificity of American corporate capitalism should also read Alan Liu’s The Laws of Cool, whose analysis of post-Fordist work and management theory overlaps with the project of The New Spirit of Capitalism. Management literature in the 1960s focused on meritocracy and management by objectives, the latter balancing managerial autonomy and the order of large, bureaucratic firms. Management in the 1990s added to the previous era’s attack on hierarchy, extending it beyond management. Attacking the idea of planning and endlessly praising flexibility, this management literature deployed a new set of terms to describe the activities of the corporation: lean firms would work together in networks on projects organized around small teams. Instead of bureaucratic forms of control, which were increasingly unable to manage the complexity of post-Fordist organization, this new management literature sought out means by which people would come to control themselves. One of the most striking ways this self-control was achieved was by outsourcing most of the corporation’s activities, so that what was formerly hierarchically controlled would be controlled by market competition. Whereas management in the 1960s emphasized security, management in the 1990s focused on liberation, the supposed freedom offered by flexibility and mobility. Rather than have a career, workers were to pass from one project to another and to improve their “employability.” B+C spend a great deal of time surveying the spread of network metaphors and “connexionist” and “relational” ontologies across society and into management literature. Though networks have always existed, recently networks have become normative models for social organization: “We believe that if something new has come to pass . . . it is precisely the formation of a mode of judgment which, taking it for granted that the world is a network (and not, for example, a system, a structure, a market or a community), offers fulcra for appraising and ordering the relative value of beings in such a world.” The centrality of the network in the new spirit of capitalism’s justifications should make readers approach with caution the recent burst of theory that also holds the network up as an ideal. The problem with this kind of theory is not that it relies on the concept of a network, but that it naively treats the network as a norm. In the period following May 1968, labor seemed ungovernable, at least in France. By offering more security and addressing problems of inequality, capitalism responded to the social critique and attempted “to silence it by satisfying it.” But the declining economic situation and the costs of this solution led management to seek out other options, one of which was offering forms of work that bypassed the unions and were sensitive to the themes of the artistic critique. Ultimately, “Autonomy was exchanged for security, opening the way for a new spirit of capitalism extolling the virtues of mobility and adaptability.” B+C present an extensive survey of post-Fordist forms of work (readers familiar with the already large body of work on post-Fordism may find this section the least interesting). They emphasize that new forms of temporary work and the “casualization of labor and the development of subcontracting” make it possible for businesses to undermine labor laws and to increase the intensity of demands placed on workers. The “displacements of capitalism have had the effect of greatly weakening unions in part deliberately and premeditatedly, and in part through a combination of unintended consequences and the unions’ poor handling of the new conditions they faced.” It didn’t help that “Trade-union bodies (like political parties) belonged to the hierarchical and bureaucratic world the class of 1968 had wanted to destroy, and which they finally saw in retreat.” The social critique has lately appeared powerless because “capitalism’s displacements have produced a world that is hard to interpret, one which it is difficult to oppose with the tools forged by oppositional movements over the previous century.” At the same time, the artistic critique has also been recuperated by the new spirit of capitalism, its demands for autonomy, creativity, authenticity, and liberation being incorporated into management discourse. B+C claim that the frustration (or perhaps success) of the social and artistic critiques led a minority to adopt “the only course that was still available: public silence, aristocratic withdrawal, individual resistance, and an eschatological anticipation of the implosion of capitalism (in the manner of communism) or the collapse of modernity upon itself.” Yet B+C don’t wish to end on this gloomy note, so they track the revival of the social critique and the test of the artistic critique. Born out of the second spirit of capitalism, the social critique found itself ineffective in the third spirit of capitalism. Dismissed as obsolete by both the Right and the Left, the social critique is seeing new life today in networked activist groups that have invented a new “repertoire of protest.” At points like this, B+C’s seemingly longwinded and academic work powerfully intersects with emerging forms of collectivity. For example, B+C elsewhere in the book cite a thesis on Debord by Julien Coupat, who would go on to be one of the Tarnac 9 and who, despite his denials, is often identified as the author of The Coming Insurrection, whose first half heavily draws from The New Spirit of Capitalism. B+C seek out a new grammar of exploitation that would be suited for a networked and connexionist world. They latch on to the fact that the actions of opportunistic networkers – those who take advantage of “mobility differentials” and exploit institutional resources – cannot be generalized to a whole world: absolute and universal mobility could cause the network itself to collapse. Contemporary capitalism therefore has an interest in setting constraints on networking while continuing to hold the network up as an ideal. These constraints cannot be anything like those of the old social critique, but B+C believe a “system of law” could serve as a “mode of public inscription, in the form of general rules” that could both constrain and legitimate conduct.
“[T]he world socialist movement, indeed all forms of anti-systemic movement, as well as all revolutionary and/or socialist states, have themselves been integral products of historical capitalism. They were not structures external to the historical system but the excretion of processes internal to it. Hence they have reflected all the contradictions and constraints of the system. They could not and cannot do otherwise. Their faults, their limitations, their negative effects are part of the balance-sheet of historical capitalism, not of a hypothetical historical system, of a socialist world-system, that does not yet exist. The intensity of the exploitation of labour in revolutionary and/or socialist states, the denial of political freedoms, the persistence of sexism and racism all have to do far more with the fact that these states continue to be located in the peripheral and semi-peripheral zones of the capitalist world-economy than with the properties peculiar to a new social system.” Wallerstein claims that traditional histories of capitalism from the left have either posited a pure logic of capitalism and then attempted to identify that logic at work in specific historical examples or asserted a recent transformation of capitalism and then opposed this supposedly new form of capitalism to a mythological older form. Wallerstein instead views “capitalism as a historical system,” an “overall integrated reality.” Drawing from Braudel the distinction between mercantile and capitalist societies, Wallerstein claims a capitalist system is in place when the accumulation of capital takes priority over all alternative objectives. Of course previous historical systems involved the accumulation of capital, but in such systems certain elements necessary for accumulation were not or were insufficiently commodified. “Historical capitalism involved therefore the widespread commodification of processes – not merely exchange processes, but production processes, distribution processes, and investment processes – that had previously been conducted other than via a ‘market.’” In other words, “the historical development of capitalism has involved the thrust towards the commodification of everything.” Wallerstein claims that the “genesis of this historical system is located in late-fifteenth-century Europe, that the system expanded in space over time to cover the entire globe by the late nineteenth century, and that it still today covers the entire globe.” According to Wallerstein, the growth of the system was caused not by the search for new markets but by the search for “low-cost labour forces.” Though it may seem counterintuitive, capitalism prefers semi-proletarianization to full proletarianization since the former costs less. Semi-proletarianization produces greater levels of exploitation by distributing throughout the household and community the costs of reproducing the wage laborer. Wallerstein even claims, “One of the major forces behind proletarianization has been the world’s work-forces themselves. They have understood, often better than their self-proclaimed intellectual spokesmen, how much greater the exploitation is in semi-proletarian than in more fully-proletarianized households.” The capitalist world-system has spread in order to discover or promote the emergence of semi-proletarian labor that would work at the “lowest possible wage-level threshold.” That is, “geographical expansion of the world-system served to counterbalance the profit-reducing process of increased proletarianization, by incorporating new workforces destined to be semi-proletarianized.” Wallerstein believes that capitalism directly gives rise to racism: “Racism was the ideological justification for the hierarchization of the work-force and its highly unequal distributions of reward. . . . the beliefs that certain groups were ‘superior’ to others in certain characteristics relevant to performance in the economic arena always came into being after, rather than before, the location of these groups in the work-force. Racism has always been post hoc.” Throughout the history of the capitalist world-system, racism has therefore been adopted and discarded or modified according to changing economic conditions. Wallerstein argues that the capitalist world-system has been dominated by a series of hegemons: Netherlands, Great Britain, and, today, the United States (drawing from Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi says much more about these hegemons). The power of each hegemon “came to an end largely for economic reasons more than for politico-military reasons.” On one hand, other nations eventually copied the business and organizational methods of the hegemon, eliminating its economic competitiveness. On the other hand, “the hegemonic power had every interest in maintaining uninterrupted economic activity and therefore tended to buy labour peace with internal redistribution. Over time, this led to reduced competitiveness thereby ending hegemony.” Each hegemon was also burdened with excessive military expenses that resulted from its need to control the development of the capitalist world-system.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Katsiaficas’ book is an invaluable history of European autonomous movements that offers much-needed documentation of recent extra-parliamentary activism. Katsiaficas argues that autonomous movements “define the phenomenal form of contemporary radical activism.” Just a few years ago, the autonomous movements described in this book would have been labeled “anarchists” and immediately dismissed by the Right and the Left, the latter accepting either liberal or Marxist-Leninist assumptions about the supposedly childish and reactionary spontaneity of such collectives. It is remarkable how the consistency of these autonomous movements has become progressively visible, in part because of recent anti-globalization/IMF protests, the popularization of the metaphor of the network, and the belated appreciation (at least in the U.S.) of the philosophy of figures such Negri and Badiou. Recognition of autonomist movements is essential for overcoming the mythological status of 1968 and self-defeating nostalgia for the radical politics of the 1960s. Katsiaficas begins his book by claiming: “The now legendary 1960s movements did not die; they never existed, at least not within the temporal confines of a decade. After all, it was in 1955 that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the back of the bus and in 1977 that the Italian counterculture crashed head-on into the forces of order.” Yet there is a significant break between the radicals of the 1960s and those of the 1970s, especially because the latter often attacked the former for “having accommodated themselves to the existing system or even gone over to the other side.” Katsiaficas characterizes the autonomous movements as “postpolitical” because they subvert politics by refusing to participate in democratic-parliamentary institutions and because they do not organize with the revolutionary goal of seizing political/state power. Instead, they seek to “decolonize everyday life” and make possible “self-government.” “Autonomy” has multiple meanings, referring to the “independence of social movements from political parties and trade unions,” to the autonomy of class struggle from “the circulation of capital” and the “traditional organizations of the Left” (this would be the Italian definition), and to the “conscious spontaneity” of activist groups such as the antinuclear movement. Katsiaficas begins by surveying Italian Autonomia in the 1970s, which remains the strongest manifestation of autonomous activism and which became the model for autonomous movements in other countries. The Italian New Left reached its peak with the Hot Autumn of 1969, which saw widespread strikes and generated innovations in strikes, such as the “hiccup strike” – which involved workers stopping production, restarting it once management responded, and then suddenly stopping it again – and the “checkerboard strike” – which “involved one section of a factory downing tools and walking off the job until ordered to return – at which point another sector took its turn in a prearranged sequence to stop production.” Labor unrest continued after the Hot Autumn as workers responded to the unprecedented growth in Italy of Fordist assembly-line manufacturing that had occurred over the previous decade, which produced a new mass of urban industrial workers that lacked adequate housing and faced management efforts to impose Taylorist methods of discipline and control. Because the Italian Communist Party wound up in the position of imposing on workers the discipline that management demanded, workers relied on self-organization and spontaneous resistance at the workplace. Katsiaficas argues that the role of groups such as Autonomia Operaia (or Workers’ Autonomy) and figures such as Antonio Negri has been overstated in accounts of Italian Autonomia. Katsiaficas claims that this “workerist bias” overlooks the youth and women’s groups that, free from the influence/obstacle of the unions/labor parties, made essential contributions to the development of the idea of autonomy. Feminist groups first solidified around the issue of the right to an abortion, went on to develop a network of groups and women’s cultural centers, and pioneered the integration of the personal and the political. Among the countercultural youth groups, the Metropolitan Indians were the most visible because of their ironic, media-friendly spectacles (comparable to those of the American Yippies), which laid the ground for a new style of politics. In 1976, the Italian Communist Party endorsed a “historic compromise” with the Christian Democrat party that forced it to take an active role in carrying out an austerity program that affected work, school, and welfare services. Violence surged beginning in 1977 when fascists attacked and shot at students protesting an educational reform bill. Encounters between students and police became increasingly violent, and as the autonomist movements lost access to public space they moved closer in appearance to armed groups such as the Red Brigade that had developed down their own (often Marxist-Leninist) path over the 1970s. The government strongly responded in 1979, refusing to make any distinction between autonomous groups and armed militants and arresting over three hundred activists (including Negri) for “subversion against the state.” Katsiaficas then turns to autonomous movements in Germany such as the Autonomen. Because Katsiaficas was personally involved with some of these groups, this section is the longest and most detailed in the book. German activists were quite conscious of Italian Autonomia and often identified with it. As in Italy, women were crucial, pioneering “opposition to the domination of the existing system and construction of liberated spaces within it.” Since the mid-1970s, a housing crisis contributed to the growth of squatting in Germany. When the government began to crack down on the squatters’ movement at the beginning of the 1980s, there was protesting, street fighting, and barricading of neighborhoods as the squatters worked to elude or resist eviction and arrest. Similar conflicts were seen between squatters and police throughout the decade in Germany as well as in Amsterdam and Copenhagen. The most dramatic of these encounters involved houses occupied in Hamburg’s Hafenstrasse. When the city government tried to evict squatters in 1987, barricades were set up and thousands of police were held off for a week. In that situation and others, the German government responded by trying to legalize the squatted houses in certain areas, “thereby depriving the movement of a focus for action and, more importantly, of a sense of fighting against the existing system.” After this (perhaps too) gripping history of autonomous movements, Katsiaficas unfortunately attempts to end the book with two more theoretical chapters that are best avoided. He begins with a decent analysis of how the German Green party shared many of the same roots as the Autonomen but then grew into an established political party that often ran into conflict with the Autonomen’s extra-parliamentary position. Katsiaficas then takes aim at Negri, whom Katsiaficas accuses of a workerist bias that fetishizes production. The previous history of autonomous movements more than amply demonstrates Katsiaficas’ point about needing a broader conception of autonomy, but his reading of Negri fails to recognize how Negri uses production as a theoretical concept and to address the critique of political economy that provides the basis for that concept. Drawing heavily from the Frankfurt School (Katsiaficas was a student of Marcuse), Katsiaficas instead concludes with his own account of how autonomous movements undermine the colonization/commodification of everyday life.