Progress and resistance

Like all left believers in the essential progressiveness of capitalism, Simon Critchley thinks that the “truth of Marx’s work” lies in its conviction that the “dislocatory power of capitalism must be affirmed.” The alternative, as it’s usually presented is in these stories, is “a retreat into some sort of Rousseauesque and ultimately reactionary romantic anti-capitalism.” Critchley continues:

[T]he more dislocated the ground upon which capitalism operates, the less it can rely on a framework of supposedly natural or stable social and political relations. Capitalist dislocation, in its ruthless destruction of the bonds of tradition, local belonging, family and kinship structures that one might have considered natural, reveals the contingency of social life, that is, its constructed character, which is to say, its political articulation.

But surely there are ways to accept capital’s dislocations without affirming them? That is, a way to recognize the deterritorializations without seeing them as the necessary ground for a new politics? Not for Critchley, who asserts that it’s capital’s ability to demystify social relations that leads to “the emergence of a range of alternative political possibilities.” For all his rejection of Leninism and other traditional Marxisms, Critchley retains a distinctly dialectical view of how capitalism will be overcome. This is so not only in his seeing capitalism’s carcass as the necessary foundation for communism (a word Critchley doesn’t like), but in his Manifesto-Marxist understanding of the “Aufhebung of private property,” that is, “both its maintenance and overcoming”; in his insistence on indigenous identity, which is formed by state repression, as a subjective counter to capitalist universality; and in his tactic of inhabiting an interstitial distance within the state, which is a sort of spatialized withering away of the state.

In the introduction to his Free Trade in the Bermuda Triangle, Brett Neilson makes points similar to Critchley’s about capital’s dislocations:

A simple given fact produced in singular historical circumstances, the currently unfolding globalization of space and time is neither the manifestation of an eternal truth nor an inevitable necessity. Equally, however, there is no going back, no return to a preglobablized world in which the borders of the national and international remain intact. To assert that one is against globalization, antiglobalization, is no less problematic than claiming globablization is somehow predestined and unavoidable. Far from closing down possibilities for revolutionary transformation, the process of globalization opens them up. The increased interconnectedness of the world provokes a crisis in the human appropriation of terrestrial space, pointing to alternatives that arise from within the heart of the global capitalist system itself.

Like Critchley, Neilson sees new political possibilities in a globalized world and believes a return to premodern simplicity is impossible and undesirable. Unlike Critchley, however, he doesn’t buy into various progressivist fictions about creating political mechanisms that can reorient capital’s drive to planetary expansion and rehabilitate its maxims regarding private property and equality. Instead he holds that politics is not the act of harnessing capital’s axioms for the good, but of prying capital from its seemingly natural connection to the entirety of the globe:

To write of counterglobablization is neither to partake in atemporal ethical judgments nor to launch merely contingent attacks against existing forms of economic administration. Rather it is to question the very articulation of globalization to capitalism, to search for alternative forms of transnational connectivity that resist subordination to the imperatives of the market and the state.

There are many things to discuss in connection with this, but I’ll note just a few briefly. First, Critchley sees the demystification of social relations as resulting from capital’s machinations, whereas Neilson says this as the responsibility of anticapitalist political practices. Second, where Critchley’s oppositional identities are created by state repression, Neilson abides by the Deleuzean maxim “Resistance comes first”; that is, resistance precedes the state and is not reducible to it. Similarly, Neilson sees capital as forever and unsuccessfully trying to capture resistant excess — “a counterpower that capitalism can only every hope to reign in but never completely subsume.” Critchley’s Badioun inspirations, on the other hand, posit a colossal state that always overwhelms opposition; the most resistance can aspire to is an ethical appropriation of capital’s drive toward totality.

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