philosophy as not philosophy: para-ontology, hauntology, schizoanalysis

"Articulating the past historically does not mean recognizing it ‘the way it really was’. It means appropriating a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to hold fast that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to the historical subject in a moment of danger. The danger threatens both the content of the tradition and those who inherit it. For both, it is one and the same thing: the danger of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Every age must strive anew to wrest tradition away from the conformism that is working to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer; he comes as the victor over the Antichrist. The only historian capable of fanning the spark of hope in the past is the one who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he is victorious. And this enemy has never ceased to be victorious."
- Walter Benjamin, Thesis VI

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice."
- Karl Marx, Thesis III

Friday, November 14, 2008

Schizoanalysis 2.5: Notes on Organization

I just want to add a few brief points to clarify the conclusion of this post. So to sum up, I see schizoanalysis as a method of developing new organizational structures within existing social groups, on the basis of a new social bond. This bond is based on what I call the ancestral, what Marx calls the proletariat, what Benjamin calls the oppressed of history.

I concluded that post by discussing Wolff's proposal for a new kind of socialism, based not in state control of the economy, but in collective appropriation of businesses by the working class. His model is one in which the employees of a company would become its 'collective board of directors', on a similar model as Silicon Valley upstarts during the 80s and 90s. I have two problems here:

1) There is a reason 'classical' socialists emphasized the necessity of seizing state power, namely, that one will not get very far in attempting to develop new economic organizations if the state is not on your side. While the argument is flawed, there is a truth to that neoclassical evolutionist dogma that claims that, if collective enterprises were really preferable over corporations, then they would have a far greater market share, they would have displaced corporate business and become the dominant model. In other words, the market would have 'selected' them. The truth here is that, while the former may in fact be the better model (or genre of models), it can not gain much ground, it cannot assert itself, because the market is already configured in favor of corporate business.

Every market, however 'free', presupposes a certain level of politico-legal support and foundation, and our foundation slants the market dramatically in favor of capitalist enterprise, making collective enterprise inefficient, not preferable. Therefore, of course, the former is clearly the superior model. So we cannot absent the question of state power: if we want to develop radical economic organizations that break with capitalism, we must intervene in the politico-legal foundations of economy, and this can only be done by means of the state. It is not enough to say, as Wolff does, that economic democracy must be the foundation for political democracy: political organization is already the foundation of economic organization. I do not have any direct answers or approaches to the question of state power at the moment, but I think we can here learn a lot from Zizek's recent work on the matter, particularly in his In Defense of Lost Causes.

[But doesn't this contradict a fundamental principle of Marxism, that of the determining role of the economy over political 'superstructures'? In fact, as Zizek describes in his The Parallax View, the point is not that politics determines the economy rather than vice versa; politics names - over and above constitutional-state superstructures, juridical/oppressive apparatuses - the antagonism at the heart of economy, class struggle.]

2) It is an easy gesture to say that the workers should be their own collective board of directors, but it is also an empty one, in that it begs the basic organizational question: how? How does a group of workers direct themselves? Now there are many models, in practice or not, of such self-direction, and so there is plenty to draw on. But this can only take us so far, for two reasons. First of all, many existing collective businesses, for the most part, are quite small and localized. So there is very little from which to learn concerning large-scale - regional, national, international - collectivization. And we may confront this problem on three fronts: converting large corporations to collective structures, breaking up large corporations into smaller collective bodies, and integrating small collective operations into some kind of larger federate body. Overall, we can put it quite simply: with many businesses, you'd never be able to get the entire workforce into a boardroom, much less conduct an orderly meeting to decide upon direction.

Second, you can do all the research in the world, but it still begs the practical question: how do I do it here, now? The problem further multiplies. For the most part, collective businesses are founded as such, so we have little to go on when we are talking about converting existing corporate business to a collective structure. Moreover, besides the issue of size, the entire range of characteristics of the business in question present problems for its collectivization: location, regional values and customs, industry, peculiarities of the workforce, competition, history, et cetera. There is no general model that can be unproblematically applied; in every instance, collectivization must not only deal with these specificities, but use them to develop an organization unique to the constitution of the group, that uses these traits as assets rather than impediments.

Schizoanalysis, as a kind of institutional self-analysis and transformation, can offer an approach to these problems of organization, using the unique characteristics of the group in question as support and material for the creation of new arrangements and programs. This is an approach that both avoids the urge to propose a general model, and that bypasses the impasses of democracy, as outlined in the aforementioned post. Analysis is not simply a reflective, theoretical exercise, but an exercise in organization and self-direction of collective social arrangements.

I'll briefly return to the question of state power. If an intervention in the politico-legal foundation of the economy is to effect a significant change, it cannot simply change the value of what we strive to realize by way of law, 'the good life'; it must moreover base itself on a change in the way we relate to that for which we strive. The good life can no longer be the end or telos of life, it must become the presupposition of life, we must already be the achievement of this end, we must be the realization of this good life. Here I am referring to what I call the ancestral dimension: the sense in which our very capacity to exist is the result of the self-exclusion of those who gave everything for us, those who could never live to see the day that we would inherit the world they built. This shift from seeing ourselves as bare life absolutely separated from the good life (utopia), to seeing ourselves as the executors of the good life as the inheritance of a 'bare life' which is foreclosed upon, must become the ground of our relation to law, politico-juridical operations, et cetera.

I know this remains very theoretical, so let me offer two attempts at concrete proposals. First, substantively, the analytic relation as a new social bond would, on the one hand, seek to deprive group belonging of any groundedness in consistency, the quilting operation of the name of the father, and instead would seek to install non-signifiers (slogans, names, memes, values, projects...) that enact a continuous, consistent destabilization of such of group identification. On the other hand, if schizoanalysis shirks the traditional analyst-analysand dyad in favor of a collective relation mediated by an impersonal analytic machine or function, then how does the role of money in the analytic exchange figure? Some payment or investment must be made on the part of those undergoing analysis, but rather than this sum going to another individual or institution, it is invested in the name of the group that is instituted through analysis - the collective analytic machine of a pregiven group. (This could be read as a renewed concept of 'union dues'.)

This pool of liquid, unspent credit capital can then serve as a body without organs, in the same manner that finance capital becomes the BwO of the socius in Anti-Oedipus. This is not the same as the latter, however, because capital entails the extraction of surplus-value by exploitation, whereas this common credit pool would be separated from the group without any relation to an agency of separation - it is already separated, insofar as the group exists. Capital does not appropriate it from the workers, nor do they still possess it - neither group possess this power, they are adjacent to it. It is then question of the collective management of a fund that, while the result of a collective investment, does not furnish the group with any return other than the investment itself. This management could, for instance, take the form of a real estate investment that thereby could not only lead to a growing pool of liquid capital, but moreover, a service open to the group itself - affordable, secure, collectively managed housing. Or it could become a credit union providing its members with safe banking and cheap loans.

The second proposal concerns not a task, but a methodological point: how would the collective board of directors, or managers of the common BwO of capital, organize and effectively make decisions? If democracy is not the answer, then what? Now I'd never rule out a priori techniques like voting, parliamentary representation, consensus building, et cetera. But these cannot serve as the basis of the decision-making process, as the bond uniting the group that thereby decides. These should only be tactics.

My short answer is that the decision-making process would be determined by the formation of an analytic collective, a group whose relation is one of a continual and univocal auto-analysis, and hence that includes precise procedures for determining when something will follow or does follow from the analytic intervention. The group would exist, not on the basis of the interests, demands, or goals of the members, but rather, on the basis of an ongoing interrogation of what holds the group together, what constitutes the members as members, what led them to be claimed by this group (the analytic collective as sub-multiple of a given institution, be it a workplace, school, union, neighborhood, political party, et cetera). This would of course be an arbitrary sign, the non-signifier, enacting the collective solidarity in the face of the absolute loss of any necessary belonging or purpose, so that we might become the purpose whose contingent appearance will be the redemption of that loss (a loss of that which we never had). [Meta-note: this last sentence, a bizarre convolution of Badiou, Meillassoux, and Lacan should betray not only my current confusion, but the complex task of reconciliation that would be its resolution.]

The decision-making process would then be a complex operation of connection in Badiou's sense, determining the belonging or non-belonging of a given multiple to an event, that also determines the belonging of a given decision or legislation on the part of a group to the consequence of analytic intervention. How this operation would work I cannot say: because its formulation would always be determined by the local conditions of a given institutional multiple or group, as well as the evental traces within that multiple (name-of-the-father as sign of the count, the operation of the count as the exclusion of every event, name-of-the-father as symptom of evental inexistence); and because the operation can only be formulated in a terminology, a symbolic system or arrangement, specific to its event, coded by the circulation of the name of the event as non-signifier, and therefore indecipherable and meaningless to those not participating therein. Maybe some general remarks on this operation can be made eventually, I cannot say right now.

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