Thursday, 5 April 2012

Some quick brown thoughts on success as a lazy objective

One in a series of old texts that I am retrieving and collecting together, and sometimes reworking. Often this renewed effort exposes deeper, unworkable, internal contradictions. Sobeit!

Do you not think that successful struggles within capitalism produce (however temporarily) the kind of direct social relations between people that prefigure communisation? Obviously these can't coexist in a stable way with capitalist ones, either being pushed through to communisation or dissipating as they achieve their limited goals or are defeated, but the future is not of a different dimension to the present, however much of a rupture is required to realise it.
I think the shortest response I can give is that I have at least a basic grasp of the reasons why our individual assessments of the outcomes of particular struggles never exhaust the matter, and that the reception, or recycling, of an outcome is of greater importance than the outcome itself. It is a cliché to say that success is relative but it is also true that further problematics appear from the vantage point of an achieved objective. Each breakthrough discovers another border against which it must set itself.

There are few rules set in advance by which we might predict outcomes for a potentially communisable endeavour other than that it must be commanded by a lived element (rather than say, by the unstoppable inertia of historically accumulated forces of production). We cannot say that the demand, the objective, the organisational vehicle adequately expresses what success might be exactly, or what it would mean to us, these elements are already given, they belong to the political vernacular when what is being felt for is that bouncing rhythmicality of the transcendent.

The prosaic framework of our demands does not at all articulate what it is that we need, which is always something other than that set by the terms of the struggle. And when we are not careful in what we pray for, as in the case of the abolition of the Poll Tax, we are humiliated by our successes, we find they are worth nothing to us. It seems, from experience, that more elaborated criteria for evaluating particular successes can only be applied with rigour retrospectively - unfortunately, we are able to understand failure within such endeavours after the event but we are not able to extrapolate from this the criteria for making accurate predictions about further events. 

The reverse is true in fact, a 'successful' demonstration for example is repeatedly restaged with less and less effect until the organisers have destroyed that bouncing spontaneity which defined the success in the first place and which they have vainly sought to recapture. As a consequence of the great variety of variables involved, all any of us with an interest in these matters can do in relation to the 'struggle', is continue as best we think fit whilst hopefully developing a subjective and communicable capacity for critical reflexivity.

However, this doesn't imply that there is nothing else to say on the matter. We can at least sketch in some of the parameters for evaluating relative successes, particularly as this is the issue under discussion here.

The question of success within a hostile environment is essentially one of adaptation (and even of exaptation, cooption and pre-adaptation). But first we must note and keep in mind a taxonomic disjunction which will influence our evaluations concerning the success of an event or project. This disjunction relates to events occurring within different scales, and may be stated simply as a rule, 'that which is significant for the group or individual is not necessarily significant for the class, but that which is significant for the class is always significant for the individual or group (although this may not be consciously recorded as such.)' In other words, none of us as individuals can really perceive in its entirety the complexity of the conditions which have created our social nature.

Historical society is a stochastic system based upon the separation of what we as humans are consciously capable of on one side (e.g. elective, direct relations) and all the 'random' factors which thwart consciousness on the other. The nature of the relation of part to whole means that we (from the perspective of being a 'part' within the 'whole') are unable to pass final judgement on the determination of 'surface' events by shifts in underlying general relations (our inferences within this field are fraught with dangers). 

If success is finality, i.e. the loss of energy from a particular struggle, then it is a condition reached only by transformations occurring beyond the terms of the struggle, that is when historical conditions themselves have changed. Otherwise, as a conflict remains 'current', its status and significance is subject to multiple reversals - it may have seemed to those participating that a particular event, say the 1905 revolution, was a disaster but then later it may be viewed as, for example, 'a necessary step' (and visa versa, a perceived great success may turn out to have subsequent negative effects - the dispersing effects of the anti-poll tax or anti-CPE campaigns as examples).

Taking the definition of success you mention above as 'direct social relations that prefigure communisation' with the proviso 'obviously, these can't coexist in a stable way with capitalist ones... etc.' we understand the concept 'success' structurally to mean an event or tendency which feeds back into its environment and changes it. From this definition we can go on to identify positive successes and negative successes, the former where, as you say, a set of relations are 'pushed through to communisation', the latter being the production of unforeseen and hostile outcomes (the negative success of the situationists occurs to me as an immediate example).

Beyond the limited particularity of specific struggles, success in terms of the general social relation would be defined by a higher rate in occurrence of similarly identifiable events which presently only occur sporadically. A higher rate of discrete successes during moments of social crisis could be seen as an identifiable pattern or 'movement' particularly when they begin to feed into each other, culminating in the generation of an autonomous environment, or cycle, of successful occurrences. Evidently, such a movement would only occur when underlying conditions have themselves changed, the successes acting as an expression of the separation of events from the previous form of the relation.

But our understanding of what are, essentially, autonomous zones still founders on the (Hegelian) logical paradox of containment of smaller events by larger forces, i.e. if a local strike culminates in a 'success' then this outcome remains within a context of hostile relations - and thus still expresses the length and breadth of that relation.

Ordinarily understood, successful discrete opposition to the general conditions which gives rise to the particular forms of opposition in the first place, never exceeds the limits of those conditions. Specific manifestations of success are equally expressions of systemic success. 

The tension that exists between an environment and its supported lifeforms perhaps is the main factor which ensures the health of that environment. During December 2008 Greek anarchists exploited the 1974 asylum law, which has forbidden entry to the universities by the police unless they are invited by the university authorities, in the cause of their protests. The social standing of the autonomous base nuclei that has developed on the legal framework of 'asylum' in Greece is derived from the military's attack on student occupiers of the Athens Polytechnic in 1973 when 24 students were killed. In other words, although the anarchists seem to successfully attack their conditions, this success also successfully expresses the legally defined limits of those conditions. 

Success, in conventional terms is always supported by the environment of which it is a product... a defined environment of available resources is able to support a greater or lesser diversity of successes in terms of lifeforms, populations, behaviours etc. and which, at all levels, always tend to optimise the resources that are available to themselves. In this way, success should be understood as an optimised relation between competing species and between the species (individually and collectively) and the environment of which they are an outcome.

The supportive environment only reaches a critical condition when a particular form of success expropriates resources beyond the ordinary limit of what is available to it. A positive feedback loop exacerbates the success of a particular outcome of an environment at the environment's expense - in this situation, the system itself behaves in such a manner that facilitates the continued uncontrolled growth of just one of its outcomes at the expense of diverse others. In the case of the Greek anarchists, a feedback runaway would have been established, that is a truly extralegal position would have been achieved, only where the supportive legal environment passed into a critical condition, thus exacerbating the revolt. 

Apparently, such an exacerbation is possible only where those who actively produce society withdraw their productive activity. This simultaneously adds to the destabilising factors whilst subtracting essential elements from ordinary process. If these reinforcing factors do not occur then the apparent subjective success remains within the terms and resources allocated to social dissonance by a system that retains its equilibrium in part via a defined quantity of revolt. The continued equilibrium of an environmental system is its definition of success, and this is attained by means of nourishing a proliferation in diverse 'life-forms'. Evidently, this systemic success is of a different magnitude to that of the anarchists in Athens, bear markets spirals on the stock exchanges, the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe, or the locust swarms in Australia.

At this point, we must set ourselves this question: what do we think is the historical significance of discreet examples of 'direct social relations'? If we hold to an aggregational perspective, as do many political activists, then we would argue that there must be a colonisation of the world success by success; we would also argue that struggles must be connected and that this conscious imposition of connectivity will eventually achieve a critical mass. But if we maintain an essentially Hegelian understanding (by which I mean the local is determined by the structure of the general) then all successes remain within a hostile territory and still express the depth and flexibility of the totality of the social relations of which they are a product.

As we go... Back, back and forth and forth. This is not to deny that the territory itself sometimes become fluid and that the simultaneous spontaneous appearance in many different locations of similar events and actions are the first indicators of a possible alteration in the general relation. Even so, identifying what is new and belonging on a new designed terrain will not be an easy matter when so much else is thrown up into the air simultaneously.

We are left with a structural paradox, something like a Catch 22: in order for communising acts to occur there must first be general communist relations and yet this generality has no prospect of becoming established without identifiable instances of 'communisation' undertaken by actually identifiable groups of people. Similarly, although capitalism was derived from the activity of actual human beings, the capitalist organisation of these people, and the globalised capitalist social relation always existed prior to any specific capitalist undertaking. The structure must be in place so that instances belonging to it are validated by it. Unfortunately, for those involved (and how is this for a lapse into calvinist theology?) the significance of communising undertakings, does not lie in the authenticity of the acts themselves, but in their increased generalised frequency - one hundred 'thorough' acts of communisation in one year might indicate failure whilst one hundred 'incomplete' acts in one day might indicate success.

One problem in recognising what is successful and what is not and adjusting behaviour accordingly is that aspects of communism will very often not function 'consciously' and will not appear with a 'communist' label. Many of these recalibrations of society will be directed towards the conditioning types of apperceptive capabilities including those for recognising success. A greater part of the change in relations will occur at the 'hardware' or 'latent' level of society and will not be labeled in everyday exchanges explicitly as a 'communist' practice. This is a difficult point to make, because it is assumed that communisation is synonymous with communist consciousness, with identifiable 'communist' activity and that this must translate into both a continual purposeful referencing of activities to values (declarations of intent and justification) and deliberate organising (the planned economy).

However, historically, the role of consciousness, the deliberate imposition of values on lived life, has only really existed within religiously orientated societies; otherwise social values tend to perpetuate themselves unconsciously, and through activities which seem 'natural' and autonomous of their conditioning. Therefore the dictatorship of a 'communising' consciousness is probably not necessary and would even function negatively against a genuine communising movement. 

Ordinarily, human interactions, although a direct product of general conditions, do not make conscious reference to those conditions... and in fact consciousness is constructed so that personal interactions and reflections on the conditioning of those interactions cannot be experienced or articulated simultaneously.

At this point, it is appropriate to mention that I am not beholden to the underlying pragmatist conception of human nature that most leftists adhere to - I am not hung up on bringing the masses to a rational evaluation of their interest. I do not accept that the proletariat lack a necessary consciousness-component or that the addition of such a component would improve the prospect of their interest if expressed in the revolutionary events that might attempt to follow the (inadequate) political outlines of such a consciousness. The implication of this is that the proletariat does not behave as the left expects it to, that is in accordance with a rationalised representation of its interest, and nor will it ever achieve that degree of subjectivity.

Although, this will seem like some late addition to the post-Kojeve framing of French intellectual life of the mid-1950's it remains the case that when we are evaluating instances of success we soon discover that we are simultaneously charting the movement of the Other, and the movement of the (big A) Other takes on very precise forms as it drifts through projects, events, organisations, causing them to fail. We can see from the operation of rationalised systems, and communism in most formulations appears as the successful implementation of a rationalised productivist system that is organised around instituted claims for use-value, that they tend to produce curiously characteristic displacements of irrationality, to give 3 mentioned examples from the news in the last week:

1. The economic dependence on intricately planned global distribution has produced lucrative opportunities for pirates who happen to be located, inopportunely for insurance companies, in Somalia (a 'failed' nation) for ease of operation in the Gulf of Aden where information concerning the highly co-ordinated movement of shipping is obviously available on the black-market.

2. The increased use of surveillance cameras in the UK perhaps 4.2million (some utilising face recognition technology) alongside harvesting technologies such as the national DNA database of 3.1 million people (the Forensic Science Service can handle 10,000 crime stain samples and 50,000 individual's dna samples per month) indicates a massive technologisation of forensic investigation. And yet this investment in forensic systems has resulted in a decline in violent crime detection from 71% in 1998/9 to 49% in 2006/7 (that is, during the very period we would expect a sharp rise in technologically driven convictions). Rationalised processing within the criminal justice industry produces strange transgressive ghosts such as the German 'woman without a face' who has according to forensic investigation left a dna trace at more than 20 scenes of theft, assault and murder, hundreds of miles apart and over a10 year period.

3. The violent death of the child legally designated 'Baby P' occurred not only under intensive scrutiny by child protection agencies but also because of active decisions that they made. This case is is an exemplar for the critique of the welfare state form, within it we find a number of systemic failures of which I will list a few. The first is stated in the principle 'everything that can go wrong must go wrong' (or Murphy's Law) but it is a characteristic of defensively designed bureaucratic structures that if every unit can malfunction individually then, at some random point, every unit will go wrong simultaneously and systemically (a negative example of transcendent bounce). 

Another aspect of systemic failure is a process of desensitisation to, and relativisation of, ethical values. Professional detachment shades into brutalised indifference - managers, case workers and 'clients' learn the limits of the system and play it as a game. This periodically reaches a cyclical climax in bursts of vile, and always unprecedented, irrationality. As a subset of this, tolerance levels are defined very precisely, but also rigidly, and it is easy to lose sight of the wider picture, after all, what is being 'managed' here is abuse of young people by older people.

Complex superstructures based on restrictive value systems remain fragile and are prone to radical decomposition when the underlying 'operating system' itself becomes subject to contradictions which it cannot resolve on its own terms. To conclude this, the totality of human society cannot be channeled along a royal road to 'communism' as allegorised in Mao's conceptualisation of the Long March to power. Communism is not realised by the 'successful' rationalisation of the political-economic sphere. The continuing success of any complex structure such as society cannot be reducible to a single, underlying, motive power, policy implementation, or class interest. Such a reduction, i.e communisation through state power, has always induced both a tendency to overspecialisation within the structure as well as causing a warping effect via the subsumption of multiple attributes and capacities to a single, overriding imperative.

Contrariwise, success is defined more by a capacity for diversification of modes of activity on the one hand and on an ability to adapt to as wide a set of circumstances as possible on the other. Success, as understood in the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's concept of the 'branching bush' takes its form in proliferating improvisations from out of an infinite number of practical bases. In this sense, the successfully achieved diversity of a genuine human community may never be recognised by the ideological form of communism which might be considered to be a pretty passing pity - and yet, the mere embrace of totality often indicates a tendency towards a loss of internal discipline and focus, so it can be argued that this refusal of recognition may still play a developmental role (in that it preserves a de-limited coherence as it engages as 'part' to 'whole').

My definition of success is/was the domination of a cycle/series by the lived moment as it achieves a vantage point of a for-itself existence. But now I see that perhaps success is merely the release of past lost codes... that a pure 'living activity' opposed to 'dead labour' is not the thing. That messianic time is not a rupture with what has gone before, in the sense of a separate future but rather the predicting of a different past. I am thinking of that line in Negative Dialectics, 'history is not a steam roller', Adorno at his most Benjamin-like.

Very often 'philosophy' by which I mean the abandoning of 'lines' in favour of 'fields' occurs at the point where individuals cease to adhere to an 'ism'... so it is that departures from orthodoxy become fascinating (e.g. Camatte, Foucault, Perlman, Debord, Deleuze... these are people who departed set frameworks). It is often said that anarchists grow up to become marxists but the best of the marxists grow up to rediscover, what we shall call, anarchism (an unacceptable designation but one which defines that other place beyond intellectual 'commitment' – their becoming 'honest' and the substitution of 'desire' with acceptance of, and honesty before, the big A other of systemic failure).


Note on text. This text was written to the conventions of the message board where it first appeared. It has been distributed as part of a pamphlet by others without my input or any further revision. I think the text is fairly weak in places but generally okay. I have worked a little on the weakest of the weak places. I do not know if I have made them stronger. I do not say that this version surpasses other available versions, only that this is now the version that I am deliberately making available.