Cooptation

In this post from a year ago, I quoted Franco Berardi: “Only the social force of the general intellect can reset the machine and initiate a paradigm shift, but this presupposes the autonomy of the general intellect, the social solidarity of cognitarians.” Bifo seemed to have in mind a communization that would save the world, or create one, but it’s also the case that capitalism needs this autonomous subjectivity to lead the way to a new regime of accumulation. It can’t do it itself. That’s always been so, but financialization has created a governance problem that is especially unbridgeable: The strategic scattering of production, the nullification of unions, and the destruction of welfare state provisos, among other things, have put the workforce and, to a lesser extent, its reproduction beyond capital’s direct command. As long as the subjects of debt adhere to the convention of this arrangement, it works, but once they start taking advantage of their not being managed, the equilibrium becomes upset. What capital needs right now is what it has fought against for thirty-plus years: mediation.

With this in mind, and without holding it up as a vanguard, it seems to me that the worst thing that could happen to the occupy movement is cooptation. The danger of cooption isn’t that it will make the movement fizzle out or that it will mean a taming of its agenda and a bringing into the Democratic fold. Those are, at least in softer forms, inevitable and are just symptoms of the real danger: the capturing of autonomous subjectivity to create a new regime of accumulation. It’s impossible to know what that would look like just now, but it was just as hard to imagine Fordism arising from, say, the CIO sit-down strikes of the 30s.

In a sense, all the debates that have surrounded the occupations revolve around the question of cooptation: demands and “organization,” “violence” and civil disobedience. The forces that have held the line against the former pair and refused to the condemn the latter pair have been waging a fight against cooptation. This isn’t to say that those who question the commitment to those strategies are craven sellouts, but it does seem to be the case that those who want demands and a program, and who question, for example, black bloc tactics and even occupation in general, are also eager to seek solutions to problems: full employment, greater social benefits, financial regulation, etc. That is to say, they want state management of the economy.

And for their political purposes, they are right. But other protesters, I would even venture to say most others, know that state involvement would in the long run benefit not the 99% but capital. Because even though the increased repression of the last few days might indicate otherwise, the occupations present capital with an opportunity it’s been needing but unable to create the conditions for on its own. I don’t think, at this point, that the movement is politically powerful enough to instigate a new kind of production, but it soon could be. If so, the question then becomes, Will capital be able to capture this new subjectivity and transform it into a mode of accumulation. If autonomy means anything, it means keeping this cooptation at bay.

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5 thoughts on “Cooptation

  1. “That is to say, they want state management of the economy.”

    yes.

    and I think, for some, that really is all they want. TINA. they really can’t fathom anything else, it’s the best of all possible worlds – well,it will be once we get the state to mitigate the worst effects of the market. TINA

    As for subjectivity, I’m not sure what you mean – that lingo problem, which is on me, not you. IOW, it’s not that your writing sucks it’s that I don’t know the terms. Transforming the subject into a mode of accumulation? Do you mean, that this ‘movement’ or communization creates subjectivities that can be co-opted, the way, for instance, Ehrenreich describes the male rebellion against male identity in the fifties.

    She argues that the feminist revolution was preceded by a male rejection of the breadwinner role, first with Playboy, a kind of revolt against the family man. As such, the playboy rebelled against marriage and sex within the confines of marriage and dating. Whereas an unmarried man would be suspect, no more! The Playboy gloried in singledom – and managed to mock the deadbeat beatnik to ensure his masculinity remained intact. If the playboy refused to be a husband supporting a wife and kids, he never refused work as the Beats did. Instead, he worked to buy – that array of consumer goods signifying playboy: stereos, fine clothes, good whiskey, fine wine, art. All rather effeminate looked at one way, which was why, Ehrenreich said, you needed lots of naked breats to assure everyone that you were very hetereosexual.

    If that’s it, I’m not sure. I was going to say that the DIY ethos can certainly be co-opted. But I’mnot sure how it would be as a mode of accumulation.

  2. oh! I just read the posted by ana. The one about the vibrant urbanism in DC.

    I had wanted to say that, here, where the cult of Richard Florida reigns, the initial warm embrace from the city was one that stank to high heaven of: being nice to the youth so that we can make them feel we’re a hip city. more youth, more ways to entice business to the city, better for economy – all according to that wack job Richard Florida.

    You know, it was like a public art installation that hardly cost as much as the artsy bike racks they installed.

    Of course, being a huge military hub, that wasn’t going to last long once people started worrying about terrorism.

  3. I hadn’t thought of the the Ehrenreich in awhile. Good stuff, and yeah, something like that. Though I generally think of something less reactionary and more progressive than the playboy. I have something in mind like feminist demands for equality, which were captured into workplace participation and new consumption, or young factory workers in the 60s whose rejection of work was turned into more the casual, non-lifetime, precarious work of neoliberalism. Or the artists’ “lifestyle,” which have repeatedly been the vanguard of gentrification and the attendant speculative profits. Etc. Obviously it’s not all that mechanical.

    Ana’s blog has lots of good stuff about urbanism and the like.

  4. Eric,

    I’m very glad another anarchist NBAnik found me on the vast and scary internets. Sorry it took me like a month to respond to your comment — I’m terrible at correspondence. I like a lot of what you have to say here… definitely adding you to my RSS.
    -Steve

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