Wrong direction: On Reclaiming a One-Way Street, by George Forrestier
[Thjs article was originally published in ‘reflections on june 18, contributions on the politics behind the events that occurred in the city of London on june 18, 1999’, London, October 1999, pages 16-21]
One has to repeat again and again that the critique of the capitalist mode of production is the critique of a mode of production, not a critique of a mode of exchange or distribution. If one wants to stage a political happening in the banking district, one has to take the greatest care to give precise reasons why and against what exactly the action is directed. A protest against the policies of the banks (for which there is certainly reason enough) must relate to what their actual part in the overall process of capitalist production is. In no way can we afford to be loose in our reasoning in this context. The difference in how to argue for such an action is the difference about the whole: This slippery slope is the borderline between progressive and reactionary critique of capitalism. I will try to go into some detail about this problem, after commenting on some ideological issues in the context of J18.
One of the groups involved in the J18 campaign has published a whole booklet with 32 pages of worthless and pointless knowledge collected from the garbage-bins of petit-bourgeois cleverness. In the whole booklet, the terms ‘capital’ and ‘capitalist’ appear only in the introduction and in the afterthoughts (one can not call these final paragraphs ‘conclusions’ because they don’t conclude anything from the body of the text - there is nothing to be concluded from there); actually, contrary to expectations, it is the leaflets that offer more political analysis and positioning than the booklet. I concentrate therefore on commenting on the leaflets, or rather those leaflets that I have been provided with (there are certainly some more).
The occasion of the event is the meeting of the G8 state leaders of whom the Golden Leaflet says, firstly that their agenda is the increase of the power of corporations (which implies that their own, i.e. state powers decrease), and secondly that the 'leaders' (put in inverted commas by the authors) are not in control. J18 adopt here the tabloid version of critique of globalization, regretting that the state leaders are not really leaders; our elected rulers are not allowed anymore to rule properly. It is suggested that 'our planet' is run by the financial market which is described as 'a giant video game' in which people use 'electronic screens'. Actually, however, it is not 'our' (‘our’? who is the ‘us’ behind the ‘our’? Humans? Mammals? Multicellular beings in general?) planet that is run, but it is society which is being run. However, society is not ‘run’ by the financial market, but by capital, in the form of the capitalist mode of production, and the fact that electronic screens are involved is irrelevant. The exclusive naming of financial capital instead of capital in its totality is a major theoretical flaw to which I will come back later on. It is completely unclear why the financial markets should resemble (or even be) a ‘video game’ - another naїve and populist, tabloid style notion (silently referring to the senile Baudrillard’s nonsense concept of post-modernity as an age of ‘simulation’).
If 'the choice is ours' as the flyer suggests, the question again is, who is the 'we' in this case (is it the same 'we' that owns the planet further up the page? Or is 'we' just an enlightened minority of street party followers?), and, if 'we' have the choice, why do we not choose to abolish capitalism? It seems that either we have the choice, but are too stupid or evil to choose the right thing, or perhaps we do not really have the choice. Actually, the specific difference of capitalist domination in contrast to for example pre-capitalist forms of domination is that in capitalism, being a form of abstract, objective domination, people do not have much choice at all, (which is one of the reasons not to like it). If somebody would take the rhetoric of 'the choice is ours' seriously, the limitations of our power would be inexplicable and quite frustrating. So part of a critique of capitalism has to be to explain why it is that we have very limited choices.
The definition of carnival is quite one-sided and romantic. Whoever has attended a carnival in Rio or Duesseldorf, must have noticed its affirmative catholic character: A carnival has a beginning and an end, and what looks to the naїve spectator like the 'subversion of authority' is designed to suppress the subversion of authority once the carnival is over - no carnival without Ash Wednesday. An unexpected carnival is not a carnival, and a carnival would be revolutionary only insofar it would not be a carnival.
The leaflet leaves it to the readers’ imagination to guess what 'authentic festivity' is, and why it is undistinguishable from preparing for a ‘general insurrection'. The jargon of 'authenticity' is reactionary; as far as I am concerned, I am perfectly happy with inauthentic festivities. However, I am indeed able to distinguish festivities, 'authentic' or not, from 'general insurrection'. At best, a festivity is not a general, but a very particular insurrection. The correct way of putting it would be: A general insurrection would include having the character of a festival, or else: an insurrection is a festival, but a festival is not an insurrection.
The definitions of capitalism given in the leaflets are very unspecific. To be 'a system by which the few profit from the exploitation of the many' is not characteristic of capitalism, but it is as well true of e.g. feudalism and most forms of society people have built so far. The point of defining capitalism would be to specify what particular form of exploitation it is. To lump it together with a general notion of exploitation as such is obscurantism. To describe capitalism as 'a mindset addicted to profit, work and debt' reduces capitalism to a psychological problem, an 'addicted mind'. If capitalism is a form of exploitation, it is not a 'mind-set' but a real, material form of social relations. Apart from that, how could a 'mindset' be 'addicted' to 'debt'? This is complete nonsense.
The same problem with the concept of 'ideology'. Capitalism produces ideologies (such as religions etc.) but it is not an ideology. Actually, capitalism produces an ideology of infinite growth, and this is indeed a characteristic of the capitalist mode of production; however, it would be necessary to qualify growth of what. Personally, I am quite obsessed with the idea of infinitely growing fun, wealth, and happiness, if possible beyond our homely little planet, and my mind is indeed quite addicted to these things.
Another naїve idea lies in the formulation 'around the world, the movement grows', followed by a list of actually very different movements. Another leaflet talks, more accurately, of 'a growing alliance of social and environmental movements' in the plural. The point is, that the quoted movements, most prominently the 'Zapatistas', make demands that are in themselves quite particular and specific, very often nationalistic, almost always regionalist, which belies the talk about 'the movement' in the singular. Based on the 'anti-Free-Trade' ideologies adopted by these movements, the most that can be achieved by such movements is indeed an 'alliance' of particular, different movements. The suggestion of the existence of one universal movement is wrong and patronizing. The interesting point will be, what sort of alliance can be reached, and what is the aim of the alliance.
To criticise Free Trade presupposes logically to embrace the nation-state as a ‘natural’, unquestioned social form: Who or what should limit or resist Free Trade if not a world system of nation-states, which protect their respective economic areas (plus backyards)?
While Marx clearly and repeatedly stated that the proletariat must not oppose or hinder Free Trade, the Marxist mainstream (including both Social Democracy and Bolshevism) did oppose Free Trade and surrendered to nationalism. Revolutionaries have no sides to take in the capitalist contradiction between Free Trade and nation state protectionism. To criticise Free Trade without criticising nation and state at the same time is a serious mistake because it fails to address the totality of the capital relation.
Free Trade creates the conditions for global class struggle to which revolutionaries have to contribute. Class as a global category, not a national one, is understood hereby as an abstract structuring principle basic to the capitalist mode of production, not as a concrete group of persons (sharing occupation, status, culture etc.) as the positivistic reductionist sociological concept of class wants to have it: For if class is taken seriously as a global category it goes without saying that class as a lived relation takes a different form of appearance in each and every concrete historical context all over the capitalist world. Global class is not the addition of many ‘national proletariats’ (a contradiction in terms) but a structuring category incompatible with the categories nation and state, therefore incompatible with a resistance to Free Trade.
J18, like Social Democracy and Bolshevism, takes sides against progressive liberalism (Free Trade: Adam Smith: Capital as the civilising process that dissolves traditional authority and narrow community), for reactionary liberalism (Protectionism: Friedrich List, Lasalle: capital’s immanent petit-bourgeois reaction to its own dynamism, creating new authorities and repressive narrow inhuman communities such as nation-states). Revolutionary politics are based on taking advantage of the progressive dynamism of capital against its reactionary side, in order to explode capital’s contradiction.
In the flyer, 'Day of Protest & party...', we read: 'The City of London produces nothing of real use to people’. This is followed by a correct formulation: 'It's financial transfers serve only to rob the poor to give to the rich. ... The City is a central part of the capitalist economic system which fails to provide for people's needs.' Yes: A central part. But nothing more.
The overall tone of the rhetoric of this J18 leaflet, however, comes down to: They don’t produce anything in the City, so let’s attack them. In a word, they are parasites.
As a devoted friend of unproductive activities, non-activities and parasites in general, I suggest that if it was true that they didn’t produce ‘anything’, this should be a reason not to ‘attack’ them, but to follow their good example.
(In reality, the do produce some things, namely services that seem to be useful for their customers, otherwise they would not be able to sell their services. A commodity that is not useful won’t be sold. The one thing, which they indeed don’t produce, is value: While they are useful within the framework of capitalist economy, they are unproductive only in the capitalist sense of the word, i.e. in the sense ‘political economy’ uses the term. In a non-capitalist & post-capitalist society a bank would be neither productive nor unproductive but simply impossible.) (The J18 ideologues will probably respond that they wanted to make the point that the usefulness of the commodity ‘banking service’ does not meet real human needs but only artificial, manipulated needs. However, needs are always the actually existing needs. There are no needs other than those that exist. Any other idea of virtual, sincere needs waiting somewhere for being kissed to life by some proletarian prince is metaphysical bollocks. True, banking services are the needs of capital - but insofar as we are capital, these are our needs, at the present time. These needs are false needs only insofar as we ourselves are false, i.e. we ourselves are constituted in alienated form: in the twin form of capital and labour. Did anybody say that we cannot say that we ourselves are false? – but we can, because we are not only what we are but we are what we could become, as well. From a future perspective, which we cannot really take in the present, i.e. from the perspective of what we are not yet, we can say, already in the present, that we are presently false. Nevertheless, we are what we are, and our needs, however false they might be, are our needs.)
'In the West any sense of community remaining is being steadily replaced by endless work and increasing consumerism both of which leave our lives feeling empty of any real meaning. The symptoms are easy to see, we must tackle the disease, a system based on money not need and on power not people.'
The inconspicuous word 'remaining' gives away the deeply conservative character of this pamphlet: The aim seems to be to defend a pre-existing form of 'community' - whatever that might be - as if life in a traditional 'community' has ever been a permanent vacation! Traditional community, we are told, is under attack from ‘work’ (indeed evil, but not as such a modern phenomenon: It is rather so that modern civilization creates for the first time in history the chance to reduce work to a minimum, while the subsumption of modern society to capitalist production with the specific form of work as abstract labour still prevents the actualization of that possibility) and from 'consumerism'. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy the privilege of suffering from 'consumerism' (probably I don’t work enough); I'd be glad if the authors of the pamphlet could tell me more about how it feels.
Another mystery is, why the replacement of 'sense of community' by work and 'consumerism' is restricted to 'the West'. Since the authors do probably not refer to 'the West' like in 'East and West' during the cold war, I have to assume that they mean 'the West' like in 'Occident and Orient'. It would be interesting to hear why the authors think that the oriental 'sense of community' is better suited to resist 'globalization' than the occidental 'sense of community', and, above all, what the reality of 'community' looks like, both East and West. Actually, while the metropolitan activists complain that their lives feel 'empty of any real meaning' (only loads of unreal meaning), comrades from overseas complain of a serious overkill of 'real meaning': From, amongst others, Christian fundamentalism to Jewish fundamentalism and Hindu fundamentalism to Muslim fundamentalism, there is no lack of 'sense of community' and 'real meaning'. However, for lack of consumerism, in particular lack of consumerism of food, sometimes this real meaning is not very full of life.
Although reality is, on second thoughts, usually quite complicated, the Doctors of Reclaiming find 'the symptoms are easy to see, we must tackle the disease'. The confused romanticism of the pamphlet switches now into higher gear with the invocation of the good old 'society is a body, and the wrong form of society is a disease' trick; for thousands of years, ‘the sick body of society’ has been the central organizing metaphor of reactionary ideologies; it is surprising that people who are unaware of such a basic thing get away with pretending to be radicals.
The disease, according to the Doctors of Reclaiming, is a system based on money and power, not on need and people. It has to be admitted that money is indeed a symptom, but not in the medical, but in the Marxist (or Hegelian) sense of the word: Which is to say, it is not the base. While capital is based on labour, money is just a form of representation (or of appearance, a ‘symptom’ in that sense) thereof, if obviously a central one.
It is unclear what the phrase a 'system based on needs' means. Capitalism is based on needs, anyway, because a commodity that does not meet any need at all, can not be sold. What we are fighting for, anyway, is not a 'system' but a society, and that would be one in which the fulfillment and the unrestricted development of needs would be the end of production, not simply ‘the base’.
Power in capitalist society is, however, indeed based on people: Capital is capital only as long as people go to work every day and play their parts in the script. People, in particular people doing productive labour (remember: the working class!), are the only base of the accumulation of capital, i.e. power in its specific capitalist form. To accuse 'the system' of being based on 'power not people' doesn’t therefore make any sense at all.
'Now's the time to change all that.' I'm glad somebody mentioned it, I nearly missed it. (I thought it was the week after.) 'June 18th is about Reclaiming Our World ... forever!' 'You've Reclaimed the Streets, now Reclaim the World!' Culminating in disgustingly Nazi-style enthusiasm, this phrasemongering contains a remarkable cocktail of nonsense. First of all, nothing is forever (hopefully). Remarkable is here the change between the first person ('our world') and the appellation in the second person ('You've reclaimed...'), leading up to the command: ‘Now Reclaim!’, a rhetorical trick more common amongst fascist dictators than amongst grassroots activists. The rhetoric suggests a continuity of successes from reclaiming streets to reclaiming 'the world'. However, although there is no doubt that a claim on rightful possession of the streets has been voiced from 'our' side, the streets have not been handed over, actually. The claim did not succeed any further than the act of claiming. It has to be expected that the claim on the whole world will not be more successful, but we will know more on June 19th. Perhaps we will have another chance later 'to change all that'.
Another problem is, again, what 'the world' is. Personally, I am not too keen on the whole world; I would be happy with claiming a little part of Haiti (access to the beach would be nice), whereas I would suggest not to claim the top of the Himalayas and the bottom of the sea because experience tells, they should rather be left alone. I don't think it's very nice there, anyway. The object of political struggle - to be precise: class struggle - is society, not ‘the world’.
Further, the syllable 're-' in ‘reclaiming’ seems problematic to me. I can reclaim an umbrella that I have lost or a book that has been stolen, and then I will hope that umbrella and book are still more or less in the same shape. What ‘reclaiming’ means is actually that I claim to have a legal title on a thing that I claim to possess, and if I can prove that claim, I will get it back from a legal authority that is entitled with settling legal claims. This is difficult to prove in the case of streets, and even more difficult in the case that the lost property is 'the world': First, the world changes every moment quite rapidly (remember: you never jump into the same river twice, the bottom line of dialectics, spelled out by Herakleitos 2500 years ago), so that it can not constitute a thing that could be re-claimed (in a philosophical term: the world, like Herakleitos' river, is ‘non-identical’). While the umbrella is very much the same today and in a week, this is not the case with 'the world' (as with every living or social object). For these reasons, it is utter nonsense to suggest that 'we' re-claim 'the world', because both 'we' and 'the world' are not distinct and stable entities. Legal concepts as developed by bourgeois society, however, are based on the existence of distinct and stable entities (such as ‘persons’): Bourgeois law assumes that both the umbrella and the owner remain the same. Therefore it is not a good idea to transfer bourgeois legal terms into communist political language. (The same problem affects, by the way, the concept of 'animal rights': Here, too, a legal concept - rights -, that makes (some) sense only in a very specific form of human society - bourgeois society - is transferred into the natural world. This won't help the little puppies very much, since not even human beings can eat, drink and sleep human 'rights'.)
This whole salsa is crowned by the statement: 'Our happiness depends on freedom and our freedom depends on courage'. That beats everything. This is so bare of any sense, it could be found in 'Mein Kampf' as well as in the welcome speech of a headmaster of a boarding school in the Midlands. Whoever wrote this, should seriously consider sending a CV to Downing Street ('Everybody is equally important. Everyone should be involved...' Actually I know one or two people I do not want to be involved too much. And sometimes I even have the feeling that some people are really more equally important than others). I hope I will catch the last flight to Haiti should people who produce such dangerous nonsense start building 'strong, diverse communities' one fine day. (For God’s sake, the risk is little.)
After these brief remarks on the kind of political understanding that seems to underlie the rhetoric of J18 publications, I’d like to go into more depth about what seems to me the major issue at stake, the fetishistic and reductionist attack on ‘financial capital’.
(It may seem strange, up to this point, why anybody should be bothered to analyze simple inconspicuous leaflets so pedantically and by reading between the lines, as it were; why split hairs, when leaflets go to the waste paper anyway, mostly unread? Must not the close reader of this ephemeral stuff rather be suspected of being the romantic searcher for The Perfect Leaflet, for the magic spell that single-handedly will make the movement good and powerful and that will make evil disappear? Not at all. However, the point is that leaflets do express something about their producers, just as political ‘praxis’ does. To be precise, thinking as well as expressing and communicating thoughts is essentially a part of the ensemble of social practices typical for human beings, and as such have to be neither privileged over other such practices nor can they be neglected as ‘mere’ transient shadows.)
The problem is, that even many experienced comrades and activists succumb to the easy appeal of the superficial success of this brand of populism, which makes it a frighteningly hegemonic movement, and this is for a reason far more important than the flawed character of this particular movement. The paradox that activities against a G8-meeting are led (in the UK) by environmentalists and ‘anti-road’ activists, is a telltale fact. It’s our declaration of bankruptcy: A most general issue, the fight against capital, is subsumed under the heading of a classical 70’s style one-point-movement (after all, and despite all disclaimers, it’s name is ‘reclaim the STREETS’, and don’t you tell me that this is just the particularly clever code name for a dangerous revolutionary organization). How is it possible that so many of the remaining radical militants subscribe to the bizarre ideological rubbish outlined above? Either they just don’t care about what gibberish is printed on the leaflets they hand out, i.e. they are degenerated cynical populists and insofar worthy descendants of Leninist demagoguery, or their own theoretical framework is eroded to near complete substancelessness.)
This substancelessness that makes them yield to elements of reactionary ideology can be illuminated with the help of a little detour on the concept of antisemitism.
(I refer hereby to an theoretical text written by Moishe Postone, “Anti-Semitism and National Socialism”, in: Rabinbach/Zipes (eds.): Germans and Jews since the Holocaust: The changing situation in West Germany, NY 1986).
(Just in case some people think they can’t be bothered with such ‘academic’ stuff: Moishe Postone, currently teaching history at Chicago University, wrote the essay as a result of discussions and experiences he had when he lived in Frankfurt, FRGermany, in the early eighties in the context of what was then the autonomous left. Efforts to understand antisemitism and, in this context, the failure of the working-class movement - after its overall defeat in 1923 - to prevent Nazism and Auschwitz, have been and are still - even more so today - central to the self-conception and praxis of the radical left in that country. These experiences and resulting discussions are of immediate relevance to an internationalist movement anywhere that subscribes to, amongst others, the Marxian category of class. It is often said - correctly - that theory results from praxis and experience; however, this refers to the totality of practices and experiences of emancipatory movements at many places at different times. It does not mean that any particular movement should develop ‘its own theory’ out of its own particular praxis and experience. This would be a disaster, because such a ‘theory’ would be not more than a conceptual duplication of the practical limitations of that particular movement. For this reason, the development of revolutionary theory has to be based on the widest knowledge and understanding of the history of such movements and their contexts as is possible. In some cases, people who can contribute to such knowledge and understanding are university professors, or they make their living with journalism (Karl Marx) or making films (Guy Debord), although all these are quite petit-bourgeois occupations. To avoid misunderstandings, the idea that one’s occupation directly determines one’s thinking (so called ‘sociology of knowledge’) has been formulated by naïve petit-bourgeois theorists and sociologists such as Karl Mannheim and is not a revolutionary, let alone a Marxian idea.
The language of theoretical contributions like the one adopted here is the language of Marx’s critique of political economy. This language is extremely difficult to understand because it refers to an object - modern bourgeois society - which is extremely difficult to understand. This is because its chief characteristic is that it replaced for good old forms of immediate, direct exploitation, mediated, abstract forms of exploitation. With the exception of social democratic, Stalinist and Trotskyist party demagogues, nobody has ever managed to boil this language down to an easy to read ‘Marx for beginners’ level. A radical - which means thorough - analysis of the capitalist mode of production is only possible for people who dedicate themselves to struggle with their whole social being for a long time (basically: a lifetime). However, just like everybody can learn Chinese or Sanskrit, everybody can learn the language of revolutionary theory (although, one’s particular conditions will make social knowledge more or less easy to appropriate). People who do dedicate themselves to the lifelong learning process which is revolution do in no way have to make excuses for this.
The concepts developed by Marx, which are a result of the experience of the failure of the revolutionary struggles of the mid 19th century in Europe and North America, mediated by subsequent years of hard and intense studies in the British Library (as hard and intense as no petit bourgeois student today would even dream about), differ from the babble we are taught at today’s universities because they are difficult to understand. While everybody - with a few years of thoughtless exercise - can understand and use the primitive, positivistic terminology of bourgeois social sciences and their popular derivatives that are content with describing a small aspect of the world, Marxian categories aim to comprehend and explain the dynamic of the totality of social relations, and for this purpose they have to be historically determinate, precise, dialectical, and therefore: difficult to understand. A language that is the immediate, one-dimensional result of everyday experience - ‘common sense’, ‘the man on the street’ talk - can never point beyond the everyday world. Actually, ‘common sense’ tends to level and make invisible the contradictions that can be found in everyday life by a critical sense, sensitive towards subtleties and fine nuances. But this is exactly what we need: To go beyond that which is, to transcend, to aufheben the order that is. One has to be highly suspicious about a thought that is immediately understandable: It is a trap. The language of the critique of political economy might be too demanding for the odd petit bourgeois and lumpen student; but it is exactly the right thing for the revolutionary, studying life.)
For the anti-Semite, ‘the Jews represent an immensely powerful, intangible, international conspiracy’. The power imputed to the Jews in modern anti-Semitism is ‘mysteriously intangible, abstract, and universal’. However, it must find a concrete carrier ‘through which it can work’ (Postone 1986: 305):
‘A graphic example of this vision is provided by a Nazi poster depicting Germany - represented as a strong, honest worker - threatened in the West by a fat, plutocratic John Bull and in the East by a brutal, barbaric Bolshevik Commissar. Yet, these two hostile forces are mere puppets. Peering over the edge of the globe, with the puppet strings firmly in his hands, is the Jew (ibid.).’
Since anti-Semitism, particularly in its Nazi-form, presents itself as opposed to both what it considers ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Communism’ it escapes being explained in terms of the political and social struggle between those two. Unless one wants to brush away this paradox as ‘mere propaganda’, Nazi-anti-Semitism cannot be understood only as ‘a weapon’ in capital’s struggle against the labour movement.
Another widely discussed interpretation of Anti-Semitism and National Socialism refers to the notion of ‘modernity’: Was National Socialism a ‘revolt against modernity’? On first glance, this seems convincing since both capitalism and communism can be seen as phenomena of ‘modernity’. (In such a perspective, Nazi-anti-Semitism would then just be something like today’s ‘primitivist’, Heideggerian, nationalist rebellion against modernisation and globalisation.) This cannot convince because ‘the attitude of National-Socialism to many other dimensions of modernity, especially toward modern technology, was affirmative rather than critical’.
With regard to capitalism, the Nazis’ ‘revolt’ was aimed exclusively against finance capital, not against industrial capital: against “raffendes” (greedy) not against “schaffendes” (creating) capital. Thus the ‘National Socialists’ - like other anti-Semites and some currents of socialism as well - related their notion of capitalism only to capitalism’s circulative sphere, not to its productive sphere. (Since this is particularly characteristic of those socialist traditions that were preferred objects of Marx’s critique as petit-bourgeois or ‘utopian’ (most favourite enemy: Proudhon), the term ‘Socialism’ in ‘National Socialism’ is not mere masquerade: Nazism does indeed epitomise some sorts of socialism, namely some ‘petit-bourgeois’, non-Marxian socialisms that did not intend to transcend commodity-production.) ‘The affirmation by modern anti-Semitism of industrial capital indicates that an approach is required that can distinguish between what modern capitalism is and the way it manifests itself, between its essence and its appearance.’
According to Marx’s critique of political economy, the double character of the commodity as value and use-value requires two separate appearances; because the value-side is ‘externalised’, fetishized, in the form of money, the reified commodity ‘appears only as its use-value dimension, as purely material and “thingly”.’ Thus, two dimensions of the same thing appear as two different and autonomous things.
‘One aspect of the fetish, then, is that capitalist social relations do not appear as such’ - as capitalist social relations - but each dimension ‘appears to be quasi-natural’: The abstract dimension appears in the form of abstract, universal, “objective” natural laws; the concrete dimension appears as pure “thingly” nature.
Fetishized consciousness can roughly be split up into two narratives: ‘Positive bourgeois thought’ hypostatizes the abstract as transhistorical; the romantic revolt, on the other hand, that understands itself as anti-bourgeois, hypostatizes the concrete. The romantic revolt tends to see only the abstract - e.g. money - as ‘the root of all evil’ and thus remains trapped within the antinomy of the commodity relation. The anti-Semite Proudhon e.g. understands concrete labor ‘as the non-capitalist moment opposed to the abstractness of money’. Therefore, he fails to challenge the concrete of capitalist production: capitalist labour. ‘Industrial capital then can appear as the linear descendent of “natural” artisanal labor, as “organically rooted” in opposition to “rootless”, “parasitic” finance capital. ... In this sense, the biological interpretation, which opposes the concrete dimension (of capitalism) as “natural” and “healthy” to the negativity of what is taken to be “capitalism”, does not stand in contradiction to a glorification of industrial capital and technology. Both are the “thingly” side of the antinomy. ... The point is that, in this form of fetishized “anticapitalism”, both blood and the machine are seen as concrete counterprinciples to the abstract.’
For the modern anti-Semite, nature, blood, soil, concrete labor, industrial machines, Gemeinschaft (community), Volk, race all stand on the same side of the binomial; the ‘artificial’; finance capital; liberalism; communism; class consciousness; ‘the Jew’: all appear on the other side.
Modern anti-Semitism is premised on a further reification: ‘The manifest abstract dimension was also biologized - as the Jews.’ The fetishized opposition of the concrete and the abstract became translated into the racial opposition between ‘Aryans’ and ‘Jews’. ‘International Jewry’ was the biologized form, the personification or reification of what was falsely understood as capitalism: Capitalism’s ‘abstract’ side, made material. This reification represents a second fetishization: Anti-Semitism not only separates the ensemble of (capitalist) social relations into two entities, but in a second step, as it were, reifies both sides into concrete matter.
I hope the little digression makes clear why the fuzzy logic of the J18 rhetoric is not just sloppy but actually dangerous. The reduction of capital to financial capital is what links vulgar, one-sided forms of Marxism with pre- and anti-Marxist forms of socialism, and, beyond that, have been instrumental for both Bolshevik/Stalinist and National-Socialist state-and capital-building projects. Even in details of the imagery the parallel is striking: The ‘inauthentic’ abstract power of financial capital, ruling ‘the world’ through inconspicuous computer screens, is the post-modern version of the Nazi’s notion of the Jew pulling the strings. Why, if not for a reactionary desire, should leaflet writers waste space in a small leaflet to mention computer screens? (In the event that the reactionary desire discovers that for each computer screen it decapitates there will grow five new ones, it might easily switch back to the Jew as the one who is supposed to pull the strings.)
The invocation of ‘utopian’, petit-bourgeois socialist ideologies is characteristic of many forms of populism. It might seem understandable when the activists of J18 try to get a few more people to attend their carnival, and choose the city as a location which works nicely as a representation of all that is evil in the world. Ironically, however, their populism makes them follow exactly in the footsteps of the most traditional parts of the British left, namely the Euro-communist mainstream with its characteristic invocations of ‘traditions of working-class radicalism’. (Eric Hobsbawm is a notorious example, who not only defends e.g. Chartist jingoism and sexism, but celebrates them as key elements to success.) In a similar way, J18 embrace the rotten mythology of ‘youth culture’, jazzed up with a bit of pseudo-situationist avantguardism, a post-modern combination of most unsavoury ideologies including Proudhonism, Bakuninism and Gramsciism, struggling for ‘hegemony’ over people’s hearts (and, secondarily, minds), re-staging the folkloristic song and dance project that was at the core of ‘Euro-communist’ populism to its deservedly bitter end: Juneeighteenism is the most post-modern stage of populism; those complaining about computer screens and the phantom-like government of finance capital are actually those who produce the simulation of an uprising which might even help obstructing a real one.
As for the actual event, it will have to be measured by what it will contribute to the development of revolutionary consciousness, and the defeat of reactionary ideologies; how it will handle the precarious relation of proletarian spontaneity and bureaucratic orchestration by a more or less secret society; and, how it will be able to avoid ending up as a bilateral military manoeuvre that effectively will improve on the one hand, policing, on the other hand, managing future uprisings.
June the 18th, the onehundredandeightyfourth anniversary of the victory of European aristocratic reaction at Waterloo, will find me sitting in the British Library, filling notebooks and raising my consciousness. Only at 5 o’clock, I might well take the chance and raise as well a 25 pence plastic cup of tea to Napoleon1.
1 On Napoleon cf.: Two Hundred Pharaohs Manifesto, London 1999, the chapter on Hegel ‘Contesting Uncle George’s Will’ (pages 28 – 33)