citation: DELEUZIAN POLITICS? A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION. By: Gilbert, Jeremy, New Formations, 09502378, Fall2009, Vol. 68
Excerpts below (full disclosure: the excerpts reflect my interests and concerns; they don't attempt to provide a representative segment of the debate).
Peter: Just going back a bit to what you said, Eric. It's absolutely true that Marx and Engels are fascinated by the deterritorialising thrust of capitalism: 'all that is solid melts into air', etc. There is a real point of similarity there. The thing is, though, that having made that assessment, what distinguishes the communist movement in the nineteenth century from, say, the anarchist movement, which would agree on that point, is precisely the strategic conclusion that they draw. The communist conclusion is that we need, in response to this situation, an institution, an organisation, direction, and so on: precisely so that the proletariat can indeed dissolve itself as a class (within the historical constraints of a class-bound situation) but not as social existence, not as 'emancipated labour'. What is required, from this perspective, is the construction of a disciplined working-class political organisation that would be capable oí winning the class struggle that takes shape around this time. Later, people will make roughly the same sort of argument in defence of the mobilisation of national liberation movements, for example. Both sorts of organisation emphasise things like discipline, unity, strategic purpose: certainly at the risk of problematic consequences, but the risk is unavoidable. This is the political legacy of Marxism, if you ask me. It's the combination of these two things: an assessment of historical tendencies and economic logics, articulated together with the formulation of political strategy.
What is original and distinctive about Deleuze and Guattari, on the other hand, is that they substitute for something like the mobilisation of the working class, or national liberation movements, things like schizo and nomad. They do privilege the movement of 'absolute deterritorialisation', however much they might seem to qualify it by adding that all deterritorialisation is accompanied by forms of reterritorialisation. Their political alternative, if that's the right word, is precisely something that unfolds in what they call infinite speed. It is something like a politics of the nomad which they identify with the deterritorialised par excellence, a deterritorialised movement which only reterritorialises on the movement of deterritorialisation itself. That, it seems to me, is what is distinctive and strong in their position. It's not presented as one of several strategic options to choose from, as if here we should do one thing, there we should do another. There is a strong teological moment in their thought. They say: this is the movement of becomings, for example. They say that the thrust of deterritorialisation goes in a particular direction and that we should follow it, basically. And that I think is politically and strategically problematic.
Éric: Ok - trying to get to the core of the question - I do think that what Peter has just described as the political organisation of the working class corresponds, for me at least, and to a certain extent, to what Foucault calls 'the disciplinary society', wherein one is necessarily caught up in this particular figure of the classic-modern conflict, struggle and war. In this context, historically, forms of political organisation have to follow the social form of organisation of society as such in the most dialectical figure of the class struggle. Now, in brief, if Anti-Oedipus tried to answer to the necessity for a new conception of politics which was called for, on the one hand, by 68's worldevent, and on the other, already, by the immediate post-68 counter-revolution (which is not at all a 'Restoration'), it is A Thousand Plateaus which confronts itself with the emergence of what Deleuze would later call the 'control society' (we can find Foucauldian equivalents from his Collège de France lectures on Neoliberalism). And this is the real explanation for its caution with regard to deterritorialisation - with the way capitalism reterritorialises itself on the most deterritorialised ... Conclusion: Never believe that a smooth space will suffice to save us.
In the control society, power no longer operates through enclosure, as in the disciplinary society, but through processes of what Deleuze calls 'modulation' that give an entirely new dynamic to exploitation. So to position oneself as 'Deleuzian' (but I avoid doing this for myself, preferring to think with and from ...) is always to remember, without becoming historicist, the importance of this kind of historical frame and framework for a political ontology of the present. From this perspective, we can't just carry on with the same old forms of political institution, the same modes of working class social organisation, because they no longer correspond to the actual and contemporary form of capitalism and the rising subjectivities diat accompany and/or contest it. That's where I come back to the importance of the systematic enquiry into die mutations of capitalism, which is, fundamentally, through the 'machinic' dystopia which they enact, Deleuze and Guattari's central project. For sure, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that we should 'schizophrenise' Marx; but, my gosh, Marx was writing mid-nineteenth century and look at what is going on since then, and above all since 1968!
Claire: If you think about contemporary politics: all we have to do is move from talking about national liberation movements and workers' movements to looking at some of the most tortured and vexed political situations, such as the relationship between indigenous Australian communities and European settled communities, and we can see that as long as we have a notion of collectivity that's founded on the traditional notion of labour and its organisation, then we will always be necessarily disenfranchising and robbing those people of a potential form of individuation.
This is what this is all about. The key question is how you can take part in some form of collective action without necessarily being identified as or appealing to 'classes' in the old sense. So the 'molecularisation' of politics which Deleuze and Guattari propose is about how to get beyond a situation in which, within a given context of communication, there are things that can't be heard. The question is: how can you have some maximum degree of inclusion with a minimal degree of identification? This is a crucial question if you want a global politics which can allow for notions of contamination, and which can get beyond the limitations of models of politics modelled on opposed pairs of identities: workers vs. capitalists, national liberation struggles vs globalist struggles. You can't have that anymore: you can only have these extremely molecular, local, individuating political gestures.
Peter: Well it depends on the situation. There are contexts where something like an indigenous mobilisation verging on identity politics, grounded in an indigenous tradition - as in parts of Bolivia and parts of Guatemala, and other places - has been politically significant and is today politically significant. The same applies to contemporary forms of class struggle. Of course things are changing all the time, but the basic logic of class struggle hasn't changed that much over time: the dynamics of exploitation and domination at issue today are all too familiar, and remain a major factor in most if not all contemporary political situations.
Claire: That's why the model of political engagement needs to be re-thought, why in a Deleuzian register one always refers to a 'becoming-x' . Because yes, there is a strategic need for molar or identifiable movements. But if they start to think 'OK - this is our movement, this is what we are identified as, and this is the only way it's going to work', then apart from the philosophical problems of identity that run there, such a movement is also going to destroy itself precisely by being identified and stable. The only way a transformatory political project is going to work is if it has a notion of redefinition that is inbuilt.
Peter: It's not a matter of identity, it's about collective self-determination, or what Gramsci used to call 'collective will', a tradition that goes back to Rousseau and the Jacobins. The question here is: what kind of social body or 'social organism' (this is Gramsci's phrase from 'The Modern Prince') is capable of a militant collective will that is grounded in a dialectical understanding of the situation as it actually is (and not in some kind of abstract ideal of sufficiency), and that is able to intervene and to act effectively?
Claire: But the 'dialectical' is the becoming. The collectivity can only act and intervene to the extent that it realises that it is itself constantly in a process of redefinition: that's what the molecular is.
Peter: Becoming and dialectic aren't the same thing. Molecular becoming isn't a dialectical process, and it isn't concerned with the consolidation of strength. It is, on the contrary, non-dialectical, rejecting any broad dialectical conception of historical negation and historical determination that makes sense to me, and placing an emphasis precisely, one way or another, on the dissolution of specific political groups.
Jeremy: Forgive me for intervening. In relation to Gramsci, who you mentioned, Peter: for me one of the most important ideas in Gramsci is that the key point in the hegemonic struggle is that moment when the class or political grouping transcends what he calls its 'corporate' character, when it begins to take on a different political role: you could say 'when it enters into a process of becoming', because, at this moment it necessarily transforms itself and puts at risk its established identity. That's Gramsci's re-working of Lenin's account of the shift from trade union consciousness to revolutionary consciousness.
Claire: It becomes virtual. It's not staying in the same body, with just this body of collective will, which we all decide to become part of; it has the potential to become any body whatever. It's displaced from the present to some possible body.
Peter: But you have that in Rousseau already, in the sense that you already have a movement from the particular to the universal: what would be gained by substituting the universal for the virtual there?
Claire: The important notion here is potentiality: one doesn't just speak of 'any man whatever', 'any subject whatever', or 'any individual' whatever, but of a pure potentiality.
Nick: It seems to me that what is at stake here is precisely the problem of composition that Peter has raised in relation to the problem of class struggle. I would say, Peter, that Deleuze and Guattari are with you on that: they also see that as a key issue, but they're addressing the problem of the party form after the failure of the vanguard party and after the experience of the authoritarian state form of the Soviet Union. They are just as much concerned as Peter with questions of the composition and organisation of groups, and out of that interest they produce a very variegated sense of the different dynamics - consistencies, expressions, modes of appearance - of political formations.
Some such formations are completely immanent to social relations, and would take the form of becoming-imperceptible, of modes of sabotage, of certain types of literary production, all having almost no apparent political identity. Others would be consolidations of social forces engaging in precisely the kind of frontal manoeuvre that might actually lead to a revolution. It's just that there is a variegated field here, in relation to which the Leninist party signifies a dogmatic and anti-inventive contraction of possibility. So I think that this is where the tension between, for instance, Peter's position and Deleuze and Guattari's might lie. But it's not that Deleuze and Guattari are unconcerned with organisation; organisation - in all its tactical, semiotic, libidinal registers - is one of their principle concerns.
Peter: I agree that that is the best way to work within this tradition. If you aim to use Deleuze politically then this is the best way to do it: to think about what kind of resources he and Guattari give us for understanding how political composition works, how capitalism works, how political organisations might become more supple and inventive, and so on. All I would say is that for me it's an extremely mixed picture: what they contribute is, in my opinion, undercut by the things that they undermine. Certainly it's important, for example, to politicise issues such as the Stalinisation of the Leninist legacy, but everybody was doing that.
Éric: Ah, the Maoist destalinisation of the Leninist party . . .
Peter: Right, the Maoist project is precisely that, entirely so, explicitly, from the beginning.
Jeremy: Let's try to specify the difference between their position and the Maoist position as you understand it.
Peter: The Maoist position maintains that the work of avoiding something like bureaucratisation and Stalinisation has to come from within the party structure, using its own forms of discipline: the instrument of radical political change shouldn't be thrown away or destroyed, but has to develop its own capability to renovate itself, renew itself and avoid this kind of bureaucratisation. That's what the Cultural Revolution was designed to do, whether or not you think it succeeded.
Nick: But in the Chinese case that you hold up, Peter, renovation is complicit with economic development and the intensive exploitation of labour, which is far from a revolutionary project. And it develops into its own kind of mania, in the case of the Cultural Revolution.
Peter: I don't think it's now a matter of going back to the Cultural Revolution as such, or even of going back to party in the strict Leninist sense. So of course there is work to be done, of inventing new political forms, of discovering what might be, in Gramsci's terms, our political 'organisms', our organisational forms which are capable, to some extent, of sustaining a collective determination or a collective will to force through political change, in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. And I think that's what people have been trying to do in places like South Africa or Bolivia, or Haiti, or whatever example you want to pick. And it's also what people have been trying to do, mostly unsuccessfully, in what's left of organised labour in countries like the UK or the US. But if that's your criterion, if that's what you're looking for, then in my opinion, Deleuze and Guattari don't add very much.
Claire: But if Deleuze and Guattari's direct equation is 'desire = revolution', that means it can't have the kind of framework that you're talking about, as in the idea that revolution needs to occur within some sort of institution and programme. Your problem with them seems to be due to the fact that their idea of revolution has in it something that's absolutely extra-institutional, absolutely extra-collective.
The molar, for Deleuze and Guattari, might be required as some sort of passing stage through which to achieve revolution, but the criteria for its success ultimately has not just to lie outside of molar formations, but to be defined against them, even if not negatively; they have to be working in some way to mutate. The 'desire is revolutionary' requirement seems to me to mean that there is something prima facie desirable and normative in mutation, which means that it's not just slightly different from what Peter is describing as the Maoist position: it has to be absolutely opposed to the idea that revolution has to occur through some collective organism. Actually, 'organism' is an interesting phrase, because that's a body. But for good or for ill it seems to me that Deleuze and Guattari's conception answers well to our historical situation, in which no one revolutionary organism or body is ever going to do any work. It's going to belie the actual political conditions and also not be suitable to them.
Claire: In those cases, it's not a question of having a criterion for individuation: individuation is the criterion.
Peter: But on that score, a general will has the same kind of individuality, except that it includes its own self-determination. And likewise I would say, coming out of the Hegelian tradition (Hegel basically adopts this from Rousseau at the beginning of the Elements of the Philosophy of Right), that it's a collective individuation which includes something like a conscious self-determination. And that's the part that's missing in Deleuze, and that can be understood (along neo-Jacobin lines) as egalitarian, as opposed to the Deleuzian metaphysical points of reference, which are all explicitly antiegalitarian. So is his ontology. His ontology is a differential, anti-egalitarian ontology: everything is in univocal being and unequally so, right?
Claire: That's anti-egalitarian if you only understand egalitarianism in terms which require something like a political organism, a representative body or a collective will. You're right that that is one form of individuation, but it neither should be nor is the politically-focussed notion of individuation. Deleuze's is a form of politics which, for good or for ill, is trying to get away from homogenising collective forms of individuation, to ask whether you could have a politics that wouldn't be about a general will or a people. And I think about that not only in terms of the collapse of the validity of a notion of something like humanity: one has to think in terms of non-human kinds as well.
Peter: Okay, so what do you mean by all this? Can you give an example?
Claire: For me the most tortured situation I face as a white Australian is this: we have an indigenous people, and actually it would be an act of violence for them to form a collective body because it is only a fiction of the West that there is something like an 'Aboriginal community'. It would be like them referring to Japan and the UK as 'the West': it has about as much individuation as that.
So on the one hand you have a body of people trying to enter the political debate, but the condition for them doing that at the moment is to remove all of their capacity for collective individuation, and I think this just goes back to one of the questions which was on the value of communication and consensus in politics. Either you say 'this is great because there's a differend', or you have to find means of political communication that don't rely on the formation of a 'collective will'. I think that is the only way that it's going to work because otherwise one is imposing a model of individuation - i.e. the collective political body - on other forms of individuation that I think have as much political purchase and right as Rousseauist traditions of a general will.
Peter: My own country Canada has a roughly similar history, as you know, but still in some sense when you talk about something like the relationship between white Australia and the indigenous, however multiple and fragmented that term 'indigenous' is (and it's equally so in Canada, perhaps even more so), you can still say, I think, that there is enough of a structured conflict between these two general groups to make sense of it as a conflict.
Claire: You can't remove the molar: that's why for a certain point in the political debate, you're always going to have a gathering together for a body, but that also has to remain completely provisional and completely open to the multiple forms of individuation which might constitute it.
Peter: Completely open and completely provisional - who has an interest in that? In my experience, if you talk to people who are engaged in labour struggles - for example trying to organise a group of immigrant workers in California - or to people who are fighting to strengthen the social movements in Haiti or Bolivia, what they constantly say is: 'we are too weak and what we need is some form of continuity and strength, and our enemies are constantly trying to bust it up, to break it up, to fragment it, to divide us, to make it provisional, to reject any kind of consolidation of the instruments that we need to strengthen our hand.'
Nick: But even then there are variable articulations. It's complex, isn't it? Such collectivities don't derive from a general notion of their specific coherence - they emerge in response to a particular problem or a particular event - so I don't see how your examples are at all in opposition to a Deleuzian understanding of the formation of collectivity as imminent to its situation.
Peter: Let's take two things that Deleuze says: one about the subject, one about the object.
So on the subject - this is from Foucault - 'there never remains anything of the subject, since he is to be created on each occasion': the subject is always the effect of a process, there is no subject of desire, for instance, let alone of any process we might describe in terms of a collective or popular will.
And on the other hand, constituting an object - this is from Difference and Repetition: 'the object must be in no way identical, but torn asunder in a difference in which the identity of the object, as seen by a seeing subject vanishes. Difference itself becoming the element, the ultimate unity', etc. So, given any object, the basic operation is to find or invent the ways of understanding it as a pure instance of differing, a radical self-differentiating or ultimately purely-differentiating thing, in a kind of fractal dispersal of the object. But if your object is something like a mechanism of oppression or domination, and if your subject is something like the mobilisation of people fighting against that oppression, what does this philosophy, which develops a metaphysics on this basis, offer? Why should we turn to this philosophy?
Claire: But that's like saying that if you get rid of God, there's no justice. So much the worse for a fiction! Yes - there are subjects and there are objects, and the world would be great if we were all completely rational subjects capable of making decisions: but reality, and the past fifty years of history, proves that not to be the case. Under conditions of late monopoly capitalism, subjects are just ephemeral. You pick and you choose. Look at party politics - there's no longer an ideology at that level, it is completely ephemeral. Either you admit that or you're lost.
Peter: I don't agree. You said, Claire, that the history of the last fifty years show that subjects are basically ephemeral. But if you ask me, the last fifty years show - and not just the last fifty years, but many more - that every time there's something like an instance of subversive collective self-determination, the powers-that-be squash it, for reasons that are very clear: because it sets a terribly bad example, which is what Chomsky has spent his life analysing.
So it's not just as if, in the situation as it is, people aren't interested in pursuing things like more militant trade-unionism or national liberation movements. What happens is that if they do pursue such projects, they pay a huge price for it. In the case of Nicaragua or Vietnam it was very clear: Westmoreland et al basically said, 'we are going to make sure that no-one does this again, that nobody in their right minds is going to launch a guerilla war against us, because they're going to pay such a price', and that's exactly what they did, and they were largely successful. So no wonder there aren't too many liberation movements on the Vietnamese model: guess why? But it's not because people aren't interested.
Éric: On this issue of the subject and the object, the point is not to be 'against' the subject for I-don't-know-what ideological reason. The point, in Deleuze, from the beginning, from his empiricist beginning conceived as the projection of a new 'philosophy of experience', is to think in terms of processes of subjectivation, in terms according to which the subject is not a given, not a point of departure for a neo-Hegelian teleology of self-consciousness, but the always provisionally terminal of a movement, a 'heterogenesis' between all the possible levels of pathic and social existence. It is in this sense that the subject is a kind of unstable, ephemeral, in-becoming historical process or relation of crystallisation, etc. That's the first point.
Now, second point, you can't just say 'let's take the object to be relations of oppression' because - and this is exactly what is meant by a philosophy of immanence, as Deleuze designates his philosophy - the relations of power in general are by definition involved in this process of subjectivation - or, if you prefer, in the Subject. Capital is a point of subjectivation par excellence ... That's why, philosophically and politically, I don't see how you can say: 'let's take relations of oppression as an object'. And if you do so, it is to better reproduce the cliché of so-called anti-humanism etc. But I really think that the question is not at all 'subject or not subject'. This is the very pragmatic dimension of Deleuzian philosophy, radicalised by the collaboration with Guattari: to look at subjects and to see how they work and are put to work, how they are constituted and subjected; to ask what might be alternative and collective processes of 'molecular revolution' which could open onto new possible worlds from inside our hypercapitalist world; to figure out how to dismantle the semiotics of Modern White Man, etc. So I really can't go along with your account of subject and object. Subjects are not only dependent on social agencies, they are 'assemblages' (agencements) involving an engineering of desire, just as much as 'Mechanisms of oppression' that are definitively not objects, even in a transcendental sense . . .
Peter: A philosophy that's interested in the self-determination of a collective subject, to go back to that phrase, accepts that it's not originary, that it's something that emerges precisely through the course of its self-determination, and you have resources for understanding that, I think, from Rousseau, Hegel, Sartre and various others.