It's become striking to me over the last few weeks how people seemingly committed to social change in fact hold on to privilege and inequality -- even if it is not their own.
This is not a new insight. Activists struggle over this question all the time. I've just come across it first hand in ways that I didn't expect. It seems like some people just like to protest. When the opportunity arises to do something with the capacity that protesting enabled, they fold, providing all sorts of excuses as to why the basic order should be maintained.
I didn't expect people committed to gender equality to defend the continuation of structures premised on inequality. Somehow I didn't expect that they, too, would enjoy hierarchical power. Maybe I can be clearer on this: I am not talking about people at the top of the food chain holding on to power. I am talking about people with relatively little power wanting to maintain the status quo that they in fact critique. It's as if they enjoy what power does to others; they enjoy seeing some people hurt or injured or shamed.
What I'm trying to describe (albeit necessarily vaguely) is not Nietzschean ressentiment. It's more like enjoying through the other. So, for example, people say they are against the exclusionary practices of group X, but when it comes down to changing the structures that let these practices persist, they balk. There are things that they admire about group X. They enjoy what the wealth and status of group X can accomplish, even when, especially when, it becomes violent and transgressive. Maybe a way to say this: class privilege sometimes persists because those who say they are against it are actually invested in it and enjoy inequality.
And the vehemence of the rhetoric and the anger that arises amidst the confusion is in part anxiety over the confrontation with enjoyment. They don't want to be people that, say, secretly tolerate an undercurrent of sexual violence--Zizek's obscene supplement or nightly law. This has to be repressed. Anger at authority is not anger over authority's failure to prevent violence. It's over authority's failure to prevent violence's exposure.
I think I have new appreciation for the power of the nightly law and how hard it is to address, how it can derail reformist as well as revolutionary energies. This may also go some way in accounting for the prevalence of 'awareness' as a left and liberal goal. By making us more aware of a variety of things, the left liberal leaves the obscene supplement in place. We get preoccupied with information and media campaigns instead of changing institutions and policies. It's one thing to be aware of inequality. Eliminating it is another thing altogether.
Excerpt from After the Protests
By ZEYNEP TUFEKCIMARCH 19, 2014
Yet often these huge mobilizations of citizens inexplicably wither away without the impact on policy you might expect from their scale.
This muted effect is not because social media isn’t good at what it does, but, in a way, because it’s very good at what it does. Digital tools make it much easier to build up movements quickly, and they greatly lower coordination costs. This seems like a good thing at first, but it often results in an unanticipated weakness: Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment.
In Spain, protesters who called themselves the Indignados (the outraged) took to public squares in large numbers in 2011, yet the austerity policies they opposed are still in effect. Occupy Wall Street filled Lower Manhattan in October 2011, crystallizing the image of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent without forcing a change in the nation’s widening inequality. And in Egypt, Tahrir Square protesters in January 2011 used social media to capture the world’s attention. Later that year, during clashes in the square, four people in their 20s used Google spreadsheets, mobile communication and Twitter to coordinate supplies for 10 field hospitals that cared for the wounded. But three years later, a repressive military regime is back in power.
Thousands of people turned out in Istanbul last June to defy the government’s plan to raze Gezi Park, in spite of the fact that the heavily censored mass media had all but ignored the initial protests, broadcasting documentaries about penguins instead of the news. Four college students organized a citizen journalism network that busted censorship 140 characters at a time. I met parents at the protests who were imploring their children to teach them how to use Twitter as it became a real-time newswire, an organizing tool and a communication device for those in the park and its surroundings. One protester told me, “Internet brings freedom.”
But after all that, in the approaching local elections, the ruling party is expected to retain its dominance.
Compare this with what it took to produce and distribute pamphlets announcing the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Jo Ann Robinson, a professor at Alabama State College, and a few students sneaked into the duplicating room and worked all night to secretly mimeograph 52,000 leaflets to be distributed by hand with the help of 68 African-American political, religious, educational and labor organizations throughout the city. Even mundane tasks like coordinating car pools (in an era before there were spreadsheets) required endless hours of collaborative work.
Negri's reading of Lenin is affiliated with what Negri calls the "so-called Marxism of the 1960s." This Marxism treated Lenin primarily as the theorist of a centralized party and instrumental relation to unions. Negri challenges this reading, recovering other possibilities in Lenin, possibilities anchored in the revolutionary working-class subject against the social democracy of the Third International. "Lenin is our new teacher."
Most broadly, what does Lenin teach? Leaps. Or, differently put, Lenin paradoxically brings together theoretical continuity and adaptability to circumstances by anchoring these in a revolutionary subject. Lenin presumes a subject.
For Negri, crucial to this analysis is Lenin's attention to class composition and his linking of organization and insurrection to class composition.These three elements can be ordered in different ways. Sometimes Lenin's genuis comes from inverting them. (I am tempted to think of these three elements as those of the perspective of the party. In other words, when the present is analyzed from the perspective of the party, these are the elements that must be included. The implication is that the working class is the subject of history from the perspective of the party.)
The problem for today (Negri in the 1970s) is, in part, finding an organizational form adequate to the changed composition of the working class. Here attunement to cycles of struggle can be helpful, particularly insofar as we note changes in relations between capital and working class, changes in arrangements of proletarian movement, changes in relations between workers and party.
The end of the book is stirring:
Terrible times lie ahead of us. The capitalist terrorist use of crisis, the repressive transformation of the state, the definitive change in the rule of development, and the fall of the law of value: we see all this and we will see it more and more heavily turned against us. We will have to resist.We will rediscover, with Lenin, that all of the weapons of the proletariat must be used, especially those that are most heavily denied to us by a tradition of defeat and betrayals.
Rather than reconstructing the argument, I'm just going to enumerate some points relevant to my own interests in the party.
1. Part of Lenin's genius was the way he grasped his situation in terms of a subjective process. Negri writes, "It is impossible to think of a historical tendency without also conceiving of a need for a determinate historical subject. This is certainly a historical product, but it still a subject." The working class is this subject. Because Lenin sees in his setting the movement of this subject, Lenin was able to avoid economism and subjectivism. So, the working class is a subject of history. Yet, "the subject must be led and subjected to a political class leadership." This is how the party "becomes history and makes history." For the working class to be the subject it is, it has to be subjectified -- the work of the party.
2. In a way not dissimilar to Badiou and Zizek, Negri, too, highlights the element of 'anticipation' in Lenin's thought. Thinking or theorizing the revolutionary subject can only be anticipatory. Again, the party is this standpoint of anticipation -- a standpoint Negri implicitly adopts as he asks "how can the capitalist initiative be anticipated?"
Anticipation is, in a sense, affective: "Lenin expresses an absolutely preliminary emphasis on the revolutionary subject, and this is the revolutionary subject that Lenin finds before him, and whose movement Lenin feels the intensity and reality of."
3. Anticipation is linked to the hegemony of the political (which Negri views as "an absolutely fundamental moment in Marxism"): which is the hegemony of a consideration of class relations, levels of consciousness, needs and necessities, and everything that concerns, in the last instance, the political will of the masses and of the ruling class.
Anticipation is not without risk: "In Lenin we find a ponderous example of a theoretical anticipation of reality, and the failures that often occur in the shift from the theoretical to the historical party (...) do not diminish its power." (Here Negri's term theoretical would correspond to what Marx designates as the historical party.)
4. For Lenin, the leap (as in leap to communism) is not unpredictable and purely subjective; "the discontinuity of the process is embodied in reality, in the material basis, and must be recognized and analyzed."
5. Organization arises from the activity of the masses -- this is the lesson of the Paris Commune. I am tempted to read Negri as Machiavellian here: the excellence of the city (organizational form) is evidence of the virtu of the founder/lawgiver. Or, what is really significant about the Paris Commune is the fact that it demonstrated the subjectivity of the working class. It expressed "its ability as a subject to give an adequate form to its organization."
6. The concepts of revolution, state, and party are all ruptured by problems of continuity and discontinuity. In other words, all three undergo changes in Lenin's thought, changes which sometimes remain unacknowledged.
a. Revolution: sometimes insurrection as explosive moment, sometimes the result of step-by-step process of building mass power;
b. State: sometimes instrument of revolution (defeat of capitalist class and building of communism); sometimes "form of overall capital," "organizer of the exploitation of work ... as a coordinate and functional force";
c. party: sometimes bearer of the art of insurrection and sometimes miserable instrument of reform that betrays the emancipatory hopes of the masses.
With respect to insurrection: insurrection "is discontinuity and an explosion of a concentrated subjective will, born out of an overall structure that allows for the continuous creation of spaces that can or cannot be used by the revolutionary brain. In this class composition, the party only crafts the revolution insofar as it plays its own initiative in the overall disequilibrium of the process of accumulation and institutional restructuring of the accumulation of the bourgeois state." So, the party can't carry out an insurrection all by itself. Insurrection is a matter of class composition. In this setting, the party is an agent of concentration.
With respect to miserable instrument of reform:
on the one hand, the development of the workers' capacity for rupture cannot rely on a mythical moment but can only sustain itself on the desire for existing wealth, on the ability to immediately reappropriate it; on the other hand, this reappropriation must be completely subordinated to the ability to destroy and the need to build new conditions for a new world. This paradox represents a huge difficulty, and the misery of the political practice that reformism accentuates is diffuclt and makes our analysis even more difficult.
The problem is a real one -- the problem of revolutionary practice (even during the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat) and securing of material needs. Negri affirms Lenin's turn to the practical activity of the masses to solve the problem. Again, the Paris Commune is the referent -- a form under which the economic emancipation of labor can take place.
What if we look at all the revolts of the last few years (from 2010 on) as revolts of the knowledge class or cognitariat? So, we think of knowledge workers broadly -- teachers, adjuncts, civil servants, nurses, Verizon workers, the newly layed off, phone-center employees, programmers, the unemployed students and graduate students -- we read, in other words, the precarious in terms of the majority of knowledge workers (those who generate content and data for communicative capitalism) who have been displaced and disposed because of the very technological innovations that make them knowledge workers. My hypothesis is that all the revolts of the last three years are revolts of these e-proles. The current skirmishes around Google buses are thus absolutely key for understanding the current cycle of struggles. Likewise, university struggles aren't epiphenomenol or derivative. They are major sites of struggle, like factories were in previous cycles.
The problem with much emphasis on the cognitariat has been the focus on the entrepreneuers and billionaires. This emphasis tends to rely on rags-to-riches narratives: homegrown computers and hackers in it for the lulz. But these stories are of course capitalist fairy-tales that displace our attention from workers onto their becoming-capitalist. Success is when they are capitalists, huge amounts of venture capital, successful IPOs, etc. What matters, though, are those who remain knowledge workers.
If this inclination is correct, then the stupid media fixation on Facebook and Twitter in the revolutions is useful: it flags the activity of the cognitariat (I really hate this term, though -- is there another one? like cybertarians? digital proletariat is pretty awful, e-proles? what about e-proles? I think that sounds pretty good ...) It also explains the importance of Anonymous, both as actors and as emblems. And, it links people like Snowden and security questions into the class struggle.
So, looking at the protests and revolts of the last few years as the class struggle of the cognitariat would account for the persistence of personal media, the people protesting, the economic position of the protesters, and the political ambiguity of the protests. E-proles have a strong libertarian bent (I blame 30 years of capital resurgent). They tend to present themselves as post-political, anti-political (for example, in the Spanish movement of the squares). They are so fluid and spongy (whatever beings, imaginary identities -- I talk about this in Blog Theory) that they can be pushed, channeled in different directions (they have a hard time uniting as a class and so tend to concentrate around identity claims). So, the revolt in Ukraine would be part of the same series as Tunisia, Egypt, OWS, and Turkey.
Struggles of e-proles don't look like past struggles of the working class because of the disparate, individualized nature of media under communicative capitalism. But it is a class struggle nonetheless.
Below are excerpts from an essay by Christopher Newfield on the knowledge economy. Much of it is quite useful and interesting. I am posting it because I think it helps provide some good context for the reflections above about the cognitariat. Some folks might recall that this was big a few years ago. The discussion pretty much died down because knowledge workers weren't a revolutionary class. But, I am suggesting that maybe, in fact, we are.
excerpt from smart analysis of situation in Ukraine:
Eastern Europe has returned to the periphery or semi-periphery of global capitalism. This is the return of dependency and of the race to the bottom. Somebody from the region will always hit bottom, and it will not be Ukraine all the time. And outside the former socialist bloc things do not look any better: 25 years after “the fall of totalitarian communism”, as “the final triumph of Western liberal democracy” was proclaimed, the global state of democracy has radically worsened; structural inequalities, land-grabbing and resource-wars have multiplied, and the survival of the planet itself is nowadays an open question.
In the region, the horrible destruction wrought by the anti-communist, pro-capitalist reforms of transition, no matter whether a “right” or a “left” party in power, has produced invariably in every East European state the underdevelopment of health and education; mass poverty and mass immigration; select oligarchs, as well as a small middle class; and political, intellectual and media apparatuses largely alienated from the population and oriented towards the powers, canons and fashions that be. It has also produced very powerful military and security apparatuses, in both the West and East. And now the bubble has burst, not accidentally in the biggest country on the EU’s borders, apparently not big or powerful enough to avoid being sandwiched between major powers.
Ukraine’s own schisms may be collapsing the country internally, but many of Ukraine’s problems are international. It is only logical that the answer will involve a defense of the state, from different directions, although the actual victims cannot be reduced to the state apparatuses, and arguably have not been represented for a while by the state. The rise of far-right nationalists, against the background of the domination of cynical opportunists and local oligarchs, is an integral counterpart of the dream sold aggressively by the West in the same package with the counter-offer from the Russian East. That dream, which has captured in the past decades most local energies of betterment, has slowly expired throughout the region after the explosion of the crisis in the very centers of global capitalism. In the last three years, popular movements have exploded all throughout Eastern Europe, and all expressed an anti-systemic discontent. However, in spite of probable longer-term community-building effects, all movements failed to produce a common constitutional moment – most likely as a consequence of the historic annihilation of the left after 1989. Many such movements, whether from Ukraine or Romania, have come to be dominated or marred by nationalists and the far right. In the aftermath, autonomous groups have continued to work relatively isolated. No popular front has emerged. Reacting to the wave of change, the local Eurocentric liberals have turned towards the left en masse, but going only so far as to deny their previous role, and to support issues of anticorruption, human rights, a purer modernization, and maybe Keynesianism. The response from the political systems has invariably been denial, repression, false choices of “lesser evils”, yet more developmentalism, reinforcement of vertical structures, sometime support of local capitalists, even more secretive and quick privatizations, and the shameless use of movements to gain advantages over adversaries in the formal political sphere.
In the intense moments of global transition, social uprisings could move things very quickly, either for the better or for the worst. In times of conflict, there is a dire need for building communicative powers. Unlike Latin America, in Eastern Europe, the traditional mediators of consensus (for better or for worse), religion and nationalism, have traditionally been claimed by forces of the extreme right, thus standing for the opposite of liberation. These same forces have also used the vocabularies of anticolonial struggle and autonomism to reinforce the obedient political imaginary of a fortress under siege, rather than to build the sovereignty of the people. If the world is indeed transitioning towards another global system, such signs, as seen from the region, are not very encouraging. War, repression and sanctions are solutions only for the current vertical structures, political bodies and for the armed far right, all of which will continue to hurt the people. They all correspond to the common conception of power in modernity: power as domination, as opposed to power in the sense of serving the people. However, the discontents of the population are systemic, and keep on rejecting domination. In the struggle, members of parties and security forces will likely leave these structures if they continue to work against the people.
Psychoanalytic Seminar Tuzla
9 February 2014
We invite the world psychoanalytic community to join us in opposing the brutal beating and persecution of people, who took to the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina to exercise their right to speak against poverty and injustice.
The authorities, who have profited from the trauma of war and genocide for over 20 years, keep on manipulating this trauma for their divisive political purposes. They systematically repress and deny any expression of the demands of citizens for freedom of speech.
We are aware that repressive and violent action by the authorities against people, who have not yet had space to speak about the trauma of war and genocide, may result in further physical and mental injuries.
We invite the world psychoanalytic community to support publicly our calls to end violence against people who are exercising their basic right to speak. We also invite all psychoanalysts to work with us on the prolonged trauma of and in a society where psychoanalysis is in its early days.
Dr Damir Arsenijevic, convener of the Psychoanalytic Seminar Tuzla
Chris Hedges is right when he argues that "any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through [the] control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian."  While Hedges is aware that this disciplinary culture of fear and repression is rooted in a political economy that treats people as objects and makes the accumulation of capital the subjects of history, he underestimates one important element of the new authoritarianism produced by casino capitalism. That is, what is novel about existing registers of discipline and control is that they operate in a new historical conjuncture in which the relationship among political power, cultural institutions and everyday life has become more powerful and intense in the ability to undermine the radical imagination and the power and capacities of individuals to resist repression and make the crucial decisions necessary to take control over the forces that shape their lives. The machineries of public pedagogy and consent have taken on an Orwellian presence in the age of digital technologies, and when challenges to authoritarian rule emerges, the state resorts to the overt and unapologetic repression of critical thought and dissent.
The anonymity of the corporate state becomes invisible as historical and public memory are erased and the American public is increasingly infantilized. Stupidity is normalized through a consumer/celebrity culture, and where that does not work, the machinery of state repression, with its endless culture of fear, punishes those willing to question authority. Authorities try to blind people to the courage exhibited by whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowden, painting them instead as traitors. Courage is now under attack by the sterile and dangerous call for unchecked security. Fear becomes the only value left in the arsenal of the machinery of surveillance, control and social death. David Graeber is right in arguing that the call for public dialogue, dissent and critical exchange in order to hold power accountable no longer provokes informed judgement and outrage among the public or thoughtful responses from politicians and popular pundits. On the contrary, he writes:
Objections to such arrangements are to be met with truncheons, lasers, and police dogs. It's no coincidence that marketization has been accompanied by a new ethos where challenge is met with an instant appeal to violence. In the end, despite endless protests to the contrary, our rulers understand that the market is not a natural social arrangement. It has always had to be imposed at the point of a gun . . . The question to ask now is not, how do we bring it back. That's impossible and quite undesirable. The question is what new forms of genuinely democratic self-organization might rise from its ashes? To even begin to ask this question we must first of all get rid of the police. 
American politics and culture have been handed over to the rich, lobbyists for the corporate elite, and now function largely to produce a state that offers the ultrawealthy and powerful all of the benefits they need to accumulate even more capital, regardless of the massive inequality in wealth, income and suffering such policies produce. In spite of being discredited by the economic recession of 2008, unfettered casino capitalism remains a dominant force and continues to produce runaway environmental devastation, egregious amounts of human suffering and the reinforcement of what Charles Ferguson has called "finance as a criminalized, rogue industry.  And, yet, while resistance to such measures is growing, it is far too weak to offer a significant challenge to the new authoritarianism.
All over the world, the forces of
casino capitalism are invoking austerity measures that produce a kind of social and civil death as they dismantle the historically guaranteed social provisions provided by the welfare state, defining profit-making as the essence of democracy, expanding the role of corporate money in politics, waging an assault on unions, augmenting the military-security state, overseeing widening social inequality, promoting the erosion of civil liberties, and undercutting public faith in the defining institutions of democracy. The script is not new, but the intensity of the assault on democratic values, civic engagement and public service has taken a dangerous turn and provides the ideological, political and cultural foundation for a society that seems unaware it is in the midst of an authoritarian stranglehold on all of its most cherished institutions, ranging from schools and health care to the very foundation of democracy. Austerity has become the weapon of choice, an economic poison designed to punish the middle and working classes while making clear that casino capitalism will administer the most severe penalties to those who challenge its authority. The police have become the new private armies of the rich, designed to keep the public in check hoping to make them fearful of being exposed to police brutality, state violence or the expanding mechanisms of the multiple surveillance apparatuses that now collect every piece of information that circulates electronically. Conformity has become the order of the day and fear the new norm, reinforced by a disimagination machine and the punishing state now mutually informing each other.
Within the last 30 years, the United States has been transformed from a society that included a market economy subject to the rule of the state to a society and government that are now dominated almost exclusively by market values and corporate power. We now live in what Robert Jay Lifton once described as a "death-saturated age."  Political authority and power have been transformed into a sovereignty of corporate governance and rule. The United States has moved from a market economy to a market society in which all vestiges of the social contract are under attack, and politics is ruled by the irrational notion that casino capitalism should govern not simply the economy but the entirety of social life. With the return of the new Gilded Age, not only are democratic values and social protections at risk, but the civic and formative cultures that make such values and protections central to democratic life are in danger of disappearing altogether.
Public and higher education, however deficient, were once viewed as the bedrock for educating young people to be critical and engaged citizens. Schooling was valued as a public good, not a private right. Many educators in the '70s and '80s took seriously Paulo Freire’s notion of problematizing education, in which he called for students to be taught modes of critical literacy in which they could not only read the word but also read the world critically.  According to Freire, young people should be taught to read and write from a position of agency. This meant learning how to engage in a culture of questioning, restaging power in productive ways, and connecting knowledge to the exercise of self-determination and self-development. Freire’s notion of critical pedagogy and education for freedom denounced banking education because it viewed students as passive containers into which knowledge was endlessly deposited. Rather than allow students to develop their own meanings, banking education assigned meanings for them, largely to memorize and spit out on intellectually bankrupt forms of testing.  Banking education is back with a vengeance and ironically parades under the name of educational reform, common standards and race to the top. Public education has become a site of pedagogical repression, robbing students of the ability to think critically as a result of the two political business parties’ emphasis on education as mainly a project of mindless testing, standardization and the de-skilling of teachers. In addition, school reform has become a euphemism for turning public schools over to private investors who are more concerned about making money than they are about educating young people. On the other hand, low-income and poor minority students increasingly find themselves in schools in which the line between prison culture and school culture is blurred.
Higher education, especially in the post-World War II period through the '60s and '70s, was, however ideally, considered a place where young people were taught how to think, engage in critical dialogue, and take on the responsibilities of informed and critical citizens. Now such students are subject to a technically trained docility, defined largely as consumers and told that the only value education has is to prepare them to be workers and consumers ready and eager to serve the ideological and financial interests of the global economy. Critical thought and the radical imagination have become a liability under casino capitalism and for a growing number of institutions the enemy of public and higher education because they hold the potential to be at odds with the reproduction of a criminogenc culture in which greed, unchecked power, political illiteracy and unbridled self-interest work to benefit the wealthy and corporate elite. Under such circumstances, education becomes simply a business, developing an obsession with accountability schemes, measurable utility, authoritarian governing structures, and a crude empiricism for defining what counts as research.
A few weeks ago when Paul and I were in NYC for the baptism of the child of some friends (by Reverend Billy), we ran into some acquaintances. The acquaintances are men in their late twenties. We ran into them around NYU. I made strained small-talk with one while Paul chatted with the other.
The guy I was talking to is a hedge fund manager.
I didn't push it. Really. After covering sports, the weather, the few people we know in common, he asks about my kids. I reply that my son is going to McGill. He's impressed and adds, "a lot of guys in my firm went to McGill." I smile sweetly, "The one thing I hope my son will never, ever, become is a hedge fund manager."
The guy laughs uneasily, "Well, he should be able to make his own choices."
"But not that."
"What's so wrong with being a hedge fund manager?"
I look at him like he must either have severe brain damage or be from another planet (both, I think, are true, the effects of capitalist excess). "Umm, the role of the finance sector in the intensification of economic inequality in the US and the larger global economic crisis?"
He says, "Well, that's your opinion."
"No. It's a fact."
"Well, some would disagree."
"Then they are wrong."
He stares at me. I offer, "My most recent book is The Communist Horizon." He grabs the other guy and insists that they have to go. Now.
The next evening while a blizzard engulfed the city I sat in a bar with a socialist friend a few years younger than the other guys. After I recounted the conversation from the night before, he tells me a similar story. A few weeks earlier, he was chatting with a woman at a party. He said something critical of Wall Street and she became uneasy, volunteering that she worked in finance, that people who go into debt have no one but themselves to blame, that anyone who works hard can easily save enough money to have a good life, etc. He described some of the challenges faced by his working class parents, tying them to the structural role of debt and unemployment for capitalism. She became increasingly uncomfortable, defensive, and angry, ultimately storming off.
The bright side of these stories of twenty-something shame: the fact that they feel it. They aren't bragging and gloating. This isn't Jamie Dimon and his gloating Christmas card. Rather, these twenty-somethings quickly cave under the realization of the wrong of inequality. They might try, initially, to parrot the capitalist ideological clap-trap that protects them, but they feel its holes. They don't believe it anymore, even if they want to. Jamie Dimon and his ilk do their best to patch up the the image of extreme wealth, "look how fun it is!," but their deafness to the tone of the times betrays their underlying desperation. Misfires are symptoms of their crumbling position. They won't be able to hold it much longer.
I lived in NYC in the mid-eighties. I worked for a year in a low-paid publishing job and then went to graduate school. A few friends and a lot of acquaintances had gone to work on Wall Street (Karen's Ho's Liquidated is a great ethnography on this pipeline). They were investment bankers and traders. Some dealt in junk bonds. From the outside, it looked like a wild scene, not as extreme as "The Wolf of Wall Street" but not so far off, either.
The difference is that in the mid-eighties, these guys were shameless, masters of the universe, Tom Wolfe would call them in Bonfire of the Vanities. The Gordon Gekko line, "greed is good," wasn't a critique, it was a flag, a banner.
This flag is now in tatters. The banner has fallen.
Now even those who want to be Wall Street's gekkos and wolves can't. They don't believe anymore that the rest of us believe that they are winners, that they are the smartest guys in the room, that they somehow deserve or have earned their immensely unequal share of the common surplus. They know that the rest of us think that are thieves, extortionists, criminals. A little shame has crept in. That's why the twenty-somethings got angry.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" lays bear the injunction to enjoy underlying the last thirty years of financialization. The ambiguity of the movie comes from our relation to this enjoyment. Does it incite our desire, does it arouse us, making us against our better selves in fact want to be like them, want to have what they have? Does it disgust us, arousing our indignation? Does it blend the two together so that we find ourselves with no place to stand (sex and drugs are fun! I'm no conservative, moralistic, prude!)? And, if it does any of these does the movie end up coming too much to the assistance of Jamie Dimon and his ilk? Maybe the audience for the film is those twenty-something finance types who want to rid themselves of the shame that shadows their work in the sector that is killing the world.
Criticisms of the movie for its sexism miss the mark. The movie enacts obscenity. It enjoins excess and this injunction always is at a cost to someone. Someone is exploited (or excluded--it's a white movie--or beaten up--lots of homophobia). The excess has to be understood as inseparable from Wall Street. Nothing to be proud of here. They should all be ashamed.
Introduction: by Jodi Dean
The last issue of Volume 16 approaches, from different directions, the inexistent. One direction is from the party. The other is from life. The approach from the party, more precisely, from the question of the party, grows out of the contemporary return to communism, extending the communist hypothesis by interrogating the party as the body of the communist subject. The approach from life, more precisely, from the life excessive to sovereign power, grows out of interdisciplinary explorations into the radicality of life as such, affirming in the irreducible excess of life the new horizon of a politics to come. At first glance, these two approaches may appear utterly antagonistic, two sides of a political-theoretical divide suggestive of if not irreconcilable division than at least incompatible assessments of what is most politically urgent today. And, while it may be tempting to glance again, to look for convergence, perhaps the better option is to maintain or even intensify the division, allowing the gap itself to generate new ideas, convictions, and solidarities.
Issue16.4 leads with Peter D. Thomas, "The Communist Hypothesis and the Question of Organization." Thomas orients the return to communism in the international resurgence of the left. He argues that the discussion of communism occurring in the register of theory is a continuation and working through of practical problems of organization already encountered in the alter-globalization movement at the end of the 1990s. Three models of the party mirror the organizational questions present in contemporary movement and revolt – the compositional party, the party as laboratory, and the expansive party of Gramsci's "Modern Prince." Thomas advocates the latter, presenting it as a name for collective political experimentation.
The exchange between Gavin Walker and Jason E. Smith continues the debate on the party form and the question of political organization. Walker dismantles the easy dismissal of the party as a political form dictating a fixed relation between ideology, program, line, and leadership, emphasizing the volatility and heterogeneity of the party within Marxist thought and history. With and against Alain Badiou, who has asserted that the party is a fully "saturated" political form and hence no longer available for revolutionary politics, Walker endeavors "to think the paradox of the party – its consistency or persistence, as an apparatus of division that nevertheless must hold together." In his rejoinder, Jason E. Smith pushes Marx's distinction between the formal and the historical party. For Marx, these are two moments of one party, moments in dialectical interplay, not markers of the multiplicity of party forms. For Smith, attention to their interplay forces acknowledgement of the concrete relation between party, history, and horizon: what, exactly, is the party to do? Here Smith invokes Amadeo Bordiga's famous question, seize the factories or seize the state? Walker replies by unfolding some of the ideas on which they seemingly agree, such as labor power and the self-abolition of the proletariat, noting there the heart of their disagreement: does communism involve the immediacy of this abolition or does communism take this abolition as a task? The answer in part depends on how one understands Marxism: as a theory of capitalist value or as the discourse of the proletariat as a political subject.
Andreja Zevnik, Erzsébet Strausz, and Simona Rentea have curated a symposium for 16.4, "The Power of Life's Excess: Contesting Sovereignty from Sites that do not exist." As Strausz and Zevnik detail more fully in their introduction, available here, the contributions to the symposium attend to the relationships between politics, life, and the body. They look to identify and produce non-sovereign forms of knowledge, know-how, and erotics, grounded in life rather than sovereign order. In addition to Strausz and Zevnik, contributors to "The Power of Life's Excess" include Ari Hirvonen, Angus McDonald, Michael J. Shapiro, and Colin Wright.
Issue 16.4 concludes with five book reviews: Joel Alden Schlosser reviews Bonnie Honig's Antigone, Interrupted; David Ragazzoni reviews Michaele Ferguson's Sharing Democracy; Thomas Jellis reviews Paul Virilio's The Administration of Fear; Stephen F. Kearse reviews Allesandra Raengo's On the Sleeve of the Visual; and Tara Mulqueen reviews Judith Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure.
This is my last issue as co-editor of Theory & Event. My time is up. It's been an honor and a privilege to work with the members of the Theory & Event editorial board. I am grateful to Jo Anne Colson for her skills in organization and diplomacy. She keeps the journal running. I am also thankful without measure for the experience of working with my co-editor, Davide Panagia. Not only has he taught me a great many things but he has become a cherished friend and comrade. We are all fortunate that he continues as co-editor, joined by the wonderful James Martel, who is moving from his role as review editor to serve as co-editor. Kam Shapiro will take over from James.