Production

I of course detest calls, in all their forms (ecological, spiritual, corporate), for a return to our prelapsarian existence of absolute communion with the earth and for a repudiation of modernity and technological ontology, which is no more possible than it is desirable. But moves like the following by k-punk and Zizek are at least as problematic:

If we are to escape from the impasses of capitalist realism, if we are to come up with an authentic and genuinely sustainable model of green politics (where the sustainability is a matter of libido, not only of natural resources), we have to overcome these disavowals. There is no way back from the matricide which was the precondition for the emergence of modern subjectivity. To quote one of my favourite passages in First As Tragedy: “Fidelity to the communist Idea means that, to repeat, Arthur Rimbaud, … we should remain absolutely modern and reject the all too glib generalization whereby the critique of capitalism morphs into the critique of ‘modern instrumental reason’ or ‘modern technological civilization’.” The issue is, rather, how modern technological civilization can be organised in a different way.

It takes a pretty deft surgeon, it seems to me, to be able to so cleanly withdraw something called capitalism from “civilization” and “reason.” Zizek, of course, uses these latter words because they rightfully mock the slippage (a la Diamond and Zerzan) that conflates capitalism with history. But at least such primitivist critiques insist on a real relation between productive regimes and social arrangements, though their bad abstractions lead to bad totalizations and bad synonyms like civilization and reason. It doesn’t take much of a labor of translation, however, to render those terms as social relations and thought. That’s work that Zizek is uninterested in — or that he assumes ideology can do for him — and so in his formulation, capital’s relation to them is the same as its inessential relation to technology: two autonomous spheres that periodically come into contact but don’t have a mutually constituting relation. This is the crux of his fascination with Lenin et al.: the desire for an agent who can exploit the gap between the spheres and excise capital from the rest of the world, a subject that can by will or by fiat separate society from capital.

K-punk’s last sentence, I think, clarifies the politics he and Zizek advocate here: taking an already formed thing (“modern technological civilization”) and altering it in beneficially (“organised in different ways”). “Organized” is the key: another word (another selective synonym) for (re)distributed. Because there is no necessary connection between the technological and capital, production is a distinct, prepolitical moment that’s taken as neutral. Technology and its corresponding ontologies are produced, and after the productive moment has passed, politics steps in to rearrange and redistribute. Obviously production here does not refer just to commodities but also to subjectivities, social relations, and thought. The “communist Idea” seems to take, as it did for historical Leninism (which I discussed a bit here), production as a given, something that’s already occurred, and declare that the work of politics is to organize its fruits to socialist ends.

At a recent event, k-punk and the other participants all agreed that being anti-Leninist or anti-party today is an empty gesture because Leninism is as irrelevant as leftist parties to contemporary politics. That’s an odd sentiment coming from leftists in the U.K., where the SWP’s fetid figure casts such a long shadow over radical politics, just as it fails to take into account perennial debates elsewhere about joining, reforming, and/or abandoning Democratic/Labor parties. More immediately, it misses the point of contemporary criticisms of Leninism and the party, specifically the rejection not simply of their forms but of their atomization of the moments of production, distribution, and consumption. At their best, critiques of Leninism and the party, like critiques of Fordism and social democracy, insist on the immanence and essential connection of each of these moments, the way Marx did in his 1857 introduction. Being anti-Leninist and anti-party today means a refusal of administrative socialism that sees distribution (“organization”) as the ground of contestation and of calls for a return to Fordism (minus its gender-based stratifications, of course). It demands that everything be subject to antagonism, especially the production of social relations.

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2 thoughts on “Production

  1. “the matricide which was the precondition for the emergence of modern subjectivity”

    That’s a disturbing metaphor. I think I’m over-reading but not by much when I suspect there’s an element of backlash here, in its (pseudo) left variety.

  2. Nate, yes, the Hegelian assumptions behind that statement are as embarrassing as they are ridiculous. If the “ecological crisis” has any lesson, it should be that philosophies about the progressive overcoming of Nature, and the nationalist subjectivities that made them possible, are dead.

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