BY ARIANNA BOVE AND ERIK EMPSON
The New Left politics that emerged out of the 90s impasse reappeared with the mentatlity of seeing capital itself as the subject of history. In this mindset we can only react to capital to the alien power of capital and construe the political defensively; organisation amounts to havens and enclaves of resistance against this totalisation. This is a fundamentally negative conception of politics that takes place through the adoption of the existing paradigms of Power.
Hence in addressing our needs and desires the reaction is: we need more democracy, more rights, more freedoms, more juridical/ legalistic defences against the corporate face of this Subject who sticks his nose into an otherwise uncomplicated terrain of liberal freedoms. In this view of capital as Leviathan resistance is limitation, the preservation of the public or its reconstitution. Although in this framework and within the existing institutions of the public some powerful struggles of re-appropriation do take place, these spaces are no longer the real basis of power; they allow for only a symbolic resistance. Clearly this is what has become of the street (but the same goes for parliament or the mediatic figurehead of a state). The general dissatisfaction with this situation pushes for a reterritorialisation of the 'public' from the real to the virtual.
In this political mindset Â©apital is responded to by a normative shift towards alternative values: altruism, austerity, responsibility, duty, morality &c. In this process the Left concedes to neo-liberalism its monopoly on the representation of desire and the real mode of its satisfaction: it tries to attack power and desire as in themselves things to be ashamed of and that require some kind of exorcism through therapeutic regulation. In its anti-consumptionist and self- regulative guises it manifests itself both as a denial of and a restraint upon the productive power of social subjectivity. The multitude is both theoretically and practically a response to these spurious meiotic divertive tactics.
Against this logic of limitation emerges a form of subjectivity that neither grounds itself on an alternative future nor judges itself by abstract and external standards of what is possible, but takes itself as its own ground of realisation and in doing so challenges and transforms obstacles that seek to contain and limit it. Rather than construing its projects in terms of the 'political' (or indeed as a 'project') i.e. through pre-determined avenues of engagement, it challenges this separation because it occupies and operates on the terrain of life (i.e. neither simply subjectivity or simply subjectification but the everyday struggle in-between them that the poles do not adequately capture). It subverts the fixity of the liberal subject, the individual of classical political economy, the citizen of representative democracy. We are interested in forms of networks that function to increase power, open operative spaces and to find ways to bypass or displace authority by shifting the locus of political identity away from pre-existing mechanisms of mediation, whether the voting booth, the party, the state, Trade Unions. In this respect it does not distinguish between left and right. The mobility of this subjectivity takes from them without buying their project and can withdraw from the game at any point.
It is because of rather than in spite of social cooperation that the locus of political power in the sovereign state undergoes subversion. In this context the model of identity politics is exposed as wholly inadequate as a response to the power of individuation, because it coexists with without undermining- the need of capital to channel unpredictability. In this sense the multitude also sanctions the end of the model of representation and the autonomy of the political which communication and new technologies have rendered obsolete. The multitude differs from the people in so far as the latter is a unity. In the latter case, mechanisms of legitimacy formation and social management could take place within this form of identification of the people with a nation, a state, a class, a religious hierarchy, or a particular fusion of those elements. This refers to the management of unpredictability in that the state is forced to exercise its authority as control over agents that are pre-determined and constituted prior to and outside of the very process of political engagement itself, hence its emphasis on the idea of negotiation of identities and the corresponding need for arbiters and moderators of this process. The continual crisis of the sovereign state then, its unaccountability and its craving for legitimacy through mechanisms of justification, in short the crisis of Potestas at the level of its belief in its own project, forces it within the control paradigm to turn the object of subjugation into the subject of that same process: it forces the political onto the whole terrain of life itself which is inherently discontinuous and unstable. Once self- regulation (always encouraged by more or less immediate threats of a more exacting and physical force) becomes the major mode of control and social management, the site of struggle reappears on the very ground of productive constituent power: a power that does not mediate itself through the political.
In control society, subversion is rarely public (because the public is citizens with names, a supposedly open and accountable space for visible, autonomous and recognisable subjects, but operative only in a context of legality and liberal rights). One of the unrecognised potentials of the Internet lies in the anonymity of the user, the opportunity it provides for people whom for whatever reason have been excluded from the old form of public life. It allows for those who do not have a name to speak for themselves.
Control society needs to be subverted rather than limited, and this is not a matter of public dissent but rather of making subversion at once public (in the sense of shared) and invisible, of dispersing through multiple points of attack. Control society is not stopped by a re-assertion of the private, data protection acts, and civil rights activism. Ours is not merely a libertarian agenda nor is it an attempt at preserving a constructed category of individual freedom, but it is the very opposition to individuation through forms of socialised disobedience, networked and spread as a form of constitution of new social realities of cooperation as well as exodus. Rather than the visible networks of accountable individuals speaking in the name of others, we are interested in invisible networks, those that cannot be represented due to the content of their association. Drugs, theft, absenteeism, are just a few examples of what are increasingly widespread responses to the criminalisation of any aspect of life that refuses obedience. Expressed in their own terms, none of these instances of often quite individuated actions seems to carry much weight and their non-representability complicates their articulation as common forms of action.
And yet in this new political climate our power stares us in the face. We all know very much from our own experience that fear, panic, depression and paranoia, can be challenged and turned around. Confidence is infectious and cooperation and association with other actors increases ones power. Because subjectivity is inherently social - multiple becomings of instances of immanent connections in life - introspection and self- reflection are the very opposite of this process, they rarely have any constitutive effect. Where the one relates to itself as one, it is really none, and thus in control society, sovereignty (of the individual) is absolutely subverted. Hence the network appears where there is a consciousness of that power. This is a movement with no leaders because everyone has become a leader of sorts, more or less effective at certain times of being able to give expression to the common, one formed by activity and example.
In this sense, and many other cases, the multitude is ahead of the left. Why? Because it knows power but keeps it secret, hidden, it does not allow its power to be expressed in the form of an institution, whereas for the Left the institution; the accountable, representative and media sensitive body is the only conceivable form of power. Because of this models of organisation are uncritically borrowed from existing pseudo democratic structures (institutional and behavioural) and democracy continues to be seen as a technical and procedural issue of decision- making and consensus formation. This often invokes the ideas of inclusion, community building, and citizenship, whereas the practical manufacture of consent is in reality the opposite; modes of programmatic exclusion and formal engineering of sentiment that organise to placate the vocal minorities at the great expense of those whose desires show no inclination towards formalised political representation. What representation does is force a wedge between subjects and those acting to exploit them. It shifts the terrain onto negotiation, agreement and consensus. The constituent power of the real minority - those thieves and bullies - tries to repudiate or recuperate the 'many' in order to give legitimacy to the structures of meioses, mediation and control. Power (authority) craves these mediations and very often we give it to them on a plate. And yet the skill of the multitude in withdrawing from these constructions intensifies and accelerates this process where all politics becomes a farcical attempt at capturing a power that is one step ahead and beyond its grasp. It is to the dark side of the multitude we must turn when reflecting on what can be done, because it is there that forms of subversion are expressed not merely as a refusal, but also as a constitution, that is to say active generation of new forms of life and collectivities. There is nothing inevitable about this process. But when we fashion political strategies from outside or above this power we do so at our peril.
Note: This is the text of a presentation at the dark markets conference, October 3 and4, 2002 in Vienna.