Saturday, 23 June 2012

‘A combination of loose and strict thinking’: five moderately extended unfinished polemics on the production of the small group form

Prefiguring doom: the case of the manifestion of Plan C and Collective Action

         Oh, no. Not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment.
Peggy Lee

A. Persistence in attempting to create new initiatives within historically exhausted forms, ever presenting, and ever being presented with, the same constraints, is always a pathological trait, and therefore always worthy of attention and analysis. 

B. The small group is the island site upon which consciousness lands to take a breath – but the conscious formation, which is comprised of the site and the landing and the breath which converge together and combine emergently, are shown, in retrospect, to be artificial and mistaken. 

C. The pathological conceits of break and regroupment which drive the small group, already tacitly assume a depleted continuity that may be reactivated only by the most artificial (brazen or surreptitious) of means. The small group summons up as belonging to itself that flicker of consciousness which it is actually incapable of containing within its territory. 

D. In provoking the retrieval of otherwise lost associations, the aide-mémoire, is not the actual locus of memory. Similarly, the small group is a means, a memento, for summoning some thing from the lost world but the group itself is incapable of fixing the contents of memory within its own structure. It is unable to learn from the past. It cannot learn about itself.  

Every small group, which seeks to make the world conform to its own image, is only another instance in the process by which small groups first discover their failure to change the world, and which subsequently succeed only in displacing the material of this discovery.

The small group condenses the history of failure of all small groups into itself, and then articulates its substance as a break with that failure. 

In the very moment of its emergence, it performs an act of self-negation which it insists is an act of secession from the endemic failures which surround it. The small group is a microcosm of banality, and yet the unrelatedness that it asserts in the idea of itself as something else, the non-relation to what has gone wrong, which becomes a barely suppressed, over-determined, relatedness is never less than morbidly fascinating.
But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood -- and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.
The talismanic conceptual motifs of secession, expressive as they are of the strong urge to begin again and on fresh ground behind the high walls, as this is evidenced by words such as ‘break’  and ‘regroupment’, and as if the initiators really believed such ‘initiatives’ really could secure the resources to effect a retreat to the hillfort, and take a free breath, breathing in on their own terms, and in all this, unable to countenance the valedictory mummer standing apart in the blue room, who does not speak but articulates, strongly and clearly, how it must turn out badly, and it is in the very formulation of the secessionists’ idea of separation that the Red Death takes its place, is already there, a ‘presence’ amongst them. 

The jaded subjects of the commodity form’s own-world are all too familiar with the rite of their interest being routinely pricked by the same presenting itself as different. It is a convention with all objects emerging within this world, and not just in the formation of small groups, that the same always appears different, only to be shown as the season turns, and when the newly different first arrives, that the old model was actually not very differentiated after all. 

Of course, there is both a critical route back from the different phenomena to the same structure which the subject might take, and also a passive route by which it performs its act of conformity. Whichever route is taken, the object and the structure of the object's appearance is historically fixed before the subject appears. Deleuze and Guattari formulate the pathology of separation by which a gesture returns to what it flees, in the very act of its flight, as il se rabat sur (it falls back on). 

The small group splitting and combining:
Collective Action and Plan C are two new initiatives emerging out of recent experiences of a combative – but ultimately unsustainable – student movement, faltering anti-austerity coalitions and in the pressing context of an ongoing and escalating crisis. In similar and also divergent ways, both put forward the concepts of organisation, Regroupment and a critical investigation of the political and social terrain as key tasks for revolutionaries at this time.
And so we are presented with yet more new small groups announcing themselves as distinct, and yet also falling into line, joining the long procession of indistinguishable others –  making their entrance with such routine words (which damn not just themselves but us, their contemporaries who cannot but respond to them):
Oh, the naked and the dead
Could hold each other's hands
As they watch me dream at night
In a dream that nobody understands
And though I am not dreaming in a
voice grown dry 'n' hollow
I stand on endless naked lines of the
following and the followed
The Next! Next!
The question set by these two initiatives seems to be, how can we not appear ridiculous to ourselves as we instigate a willed relation to the the environment in which we find ourselves when the environment has already coded the moment of our appearance as well as its very character?

In order to take themselves seriously, reflecting upon the act of undertaking a serious enterprise, the figures who seek to play the role of harbinger must establish something like a load-bearing framework for their project which will disperse that energy bound up in the strong sense of absurdity which surrounds them. 

The own-world (or umwelt) is the framed field where the existence of the group goes uncontested, it is the space where the group rules itself in a manner that is both prim and dissolute, a world redolent of both Walser and Jarry. The umwelt is house rules – it is where own-brand crazy logic holds and all the roulette wheels are tilted. But how does the group go about laying out the territory of its self-grounding? 

Or to put it another way: the small group is fated to not quite clinch the essence of itself, and yet it strongly senses the failure from which it emerges. We can thereby identify a rule which governs the twofold event comprising the objective emergence and self-formulation of the small group: the group cannot separate itself from the separation which has caused it

That which is in error, that which provokes the the vorstellungsart formation of the small group, always lies outside, and before itself. The small group, speaking from within its umwelt, is thereby structurally unable to perceive all the inherited stuff that is wrapped up in the self-separating act by which it establishes a boundary between it and that which precedes it. The small group does not perceive that it is formed when the continuity breaks off a piece of itself, so as to prolong the continuity. It is like throwing chair legs into the kitchen fire. 

A. The small group re-establishes the external error as the ground of its appearance, even as it seeks to separate itself from that error. 

B. The small group re-establishes the continuity which must appear within its own analysis in the form of a break. 

C. The small group is structurally dissuaded from presenting the failures inherent to its formation in the same manner that it presents the failures of that which has led to its appearance. 

On the generic small group of intellectuals and the constraint of requisite variety
A founding commitment of the group was to prioritise over publishing and other organisational commitments an open-ended but rigourous and regular debate. This has permitted the group’s discussion to range over a very wide terrain, from political Islam to the psychoanalytic theory of groups, though core themes throughout have been the theory of ‘communisation’ that emerged in the post-68 French ultra-left, and advances in ‘systematic dialectic’ and value-form theory which have occurred in the same period.
The small group is in the awkward position of having to think the totality whilst only in possession of a small subjective fragment of the world... this shortfall in theoretical variety, based as it is on a lack of capacity, draws the group towards abstraction as a means of compensation. This habitual falling short is expressed as a patterning, or Vorstellungsart, by which all the phenomena of the world are made to appear mimetically, and thus patterned by the same authorial mark. The reduction of the world to mimetic constructs, enables the small group to handle all quantities of reality but in abstracted form, i.e. as defanged phenomena with their variety stripped away. 

The representative constructs of the small group describe the conditional process of production of these constructs (i.e. the umwelt from which they emanate) as much as what is being represented. Anarcho-syndicalists, for example, may present any object in the world within their own discursive frame but such presentations will always be constrained by the central purpose of anarcho-syndicalism, i.e. the self-management of variable capital... its representational construct of communism will always appear in the form of self-managed production. 

Even so, the law of requisite variety demands that the structure of any system must be capable of engaging positively with any mode, event or tendency which appears within its field. For the sake of its continued functioning, the group cannot afford to simply repress or sideline that which is not obviously itself. Structurally, the group must function as a ‘self-learning’ system which is capable of developing and supporting further transformations in that which it gives life to.

In other words, the own-world (umwelt) must function as an environment functions, it must support the group’s mimetic constructs as if they were actual autonomous life-forms. The interplay of the mimetic constructs in the group’s umwelt introduces an element of flexibility and responsiveness – evolution being the conservation of organisation through accumulative modifications of structure at all levels.

Evidently, as the mimetic construct ‘communism’ is also a totalising system (i.e. it is a construct of the small group of communists but is constructed in such a manner that the group appears as a construct of communism) it must therefore have the capacity for handling the total variety of human possibilities without simply negating all which falls outside what small groups of communists represent as communism – a situation that is illustrated in Escher’s Drawing Hands but is absent in small representational constructs of big processes

Communism as an umwelt, as an environment, must have the capacity to support complex social relations which exist far beyond any abstract mimetic presentations of those relations. But communism, in reality, is only a mimetic construct of communists and so communists must attempt to imagine it inversely, i.e. as the source of themselves and not their product. Unfortunately, the reach of this exercise in imagination extends only to the level of an abject realism as evidenced by such statements as ‘communism is real.’ Communists seem fated to take the objects of their umwelt as evidence of an objective reality which legitimises them. 

The predicament of the passionate group tangled up in the verisimilitude of its mimetic constructs, causes it to become strangely subject to a stochastic mechanism: on the one hand the group must rigourously define itself against the present structuring of the totality and defend that fragment of reality which it has developed (as a construct) in the hope that there is still potential within the totalising and selective process of history for circulating its fragment to the optimum effect in society. On the other hand, the group must be prepared for its ideas to be relativised objectively (and absolutely)... it must accept that as communism becomes increasingly viable as an environment (that is where communist variety increases within all areas of life), the place of its own low resolution (and abstract-heavy) constructs of communist priorities will rapidly dwindle. Where the communist group really is a construct of real communist relations, it also cannot be – as communist relations would have no requirement for either communist groups or their isolated representations. Where there is communism, communists and their works are de-selected.   

But the small group rarely accepts its own irrelevance as its high opinion of its own works functions as the precondition of its continuation in a circumstance where other indicators of worth are absent. If left to its own devices, and in 'ideal circumstances', it tends to overcome its limitations by means of a simple amplification by force of its attenuated variety across the entirety of society... communist groups in this manner have attempted to realise the world through their ‘aims and principles’; and where opportunity has presented itself, they have burdened millions of others with the limits of their ‘orthodoxy’.

On substitutionism: The IWW, Solidarity Federation and ‘organiser training’


The problem of ‘substitutionism’ is therefore a problem of selection and variety, of environment and life-forms. Or to put it another way, this question of ‘substitutionism’ is another means of bringing to the fore, the question of the minority and its relatedness to the external world which is not a construct of its umwelt

As the inevitable members of inevitably small groups, we cannot hope to explain everything bound up in the relatedness of our group to the world  – but we must seek to optimise the proportion of our understanding of the events occurring within that relation. We must consciously acknowledge more of that ‘what else’ which is authoring us even as we seek to author ourselves. 

This runs counter to the current trend for organiser training as is  currently practised within syndicalist groups (such as the IWW and Solfed). Organiser training is presented as a proffessionalisation of workplace opposition but actually functions as an initiation rite in the self-production of militants. It is designed to instil a sense of regimental allegiance in the cadre, to establish an on-message consistency and to develop the proffessional resonance of the brand (one black and red flag for every employee). By definition training is the reproduction of human beings as instruments of an external purpose, the reduction of qualitative behaviours to quantity of performance. 

The branded organisation extracts allegiance in order to present itself as non-negotiable (invisible) externally and as indispensible to its adherents. The business model of opposition always adopts a naturalised and obvious veneer which is associated with getting the job done. The long term object of the syndicalists is an idealistic ‘union of organisers’ where everybody is organising each other.  

Organiser training seems to encourage a hair-trigger allegiance-hysteria in its bullying adherents which is unleashed against those who question the very suppositions lying behind the practices of training and militant production.  The inchoate rage of the militants of these groups is a fine example in action of the regimental form of solidarity. 

And if regimentalised cohesion is the precondition for the group's realisation of itself in the world as a widely recognisable brand, it can only gain this recognition if it is prepared to adopt the conventions of the world. If it wishes to appear within the world, the group has to alter itself so that it belongs in the world.  The syndicalist group establishes its place in the competitive marketplace of small group leftism by aping the motifs of go-getter companies. This is only feasible where internal discipline and regulated communication is imposed around its sacred core: nobody questions the organisation, ever. 

By way of contrast, the impossibilist communist approach is: everybody must question the organisation, always. From the outside, it is difficult to locate where syndicalism establishes its divergence from capitalism as its presentations are imbued with the logics of productionism, instrumentalist rationality, managerial buzzwords and commodity-form enthusiasms.

Training is never anything but the integration of subjects into a disciplinary apparatus via the conditioning of their responses to sets of regulated stimuli. The foreshortening of the apparatus’s orders into stimulating images and the calculated integration of quantities of responses into the processes of the apparatus are precisely the means by which the apparatus is made to disappear as an object of negotiation, they are the means by which it is automated, so as to get on with the job in hand. 

The disappearance of the apparatus is the event which communists seek to contest. Therefore, the opposite of training, anti-training, therefore implies interventions which are aimed at making distinct the images from the orders, the orders from the apparatus and the integrated responses of the subject within the totalising process. Necessarily, anti-training supposes initial inarticulacy and incoherency of affect as the subjects de-subjectify. 

It has long been the convention for the critique of substitutionism to focus on the ideological replacement of the proletariat by its representatives but mediation has been taken one step further and now a repertoire of images has supplanted genuine political discourse: the black and red banners, the block presence at demonstrations, the sentimentalised contradiction between 'labour' and 'capital', the anti-theoretical fetish for 'solidarity'. The circulation of branded-images, by definition, assumes a stupified populace that is susceptible to manipulation through its consumption of images.

The modern trend in anarcho-syndicalism is to present itself as a sort of asset-stripping enterprise specialising in hostile take over-bids in the ideological possession of variable capital. As one of Solidarity federation's thrusting sales’ reps has it:
the acid test is: would i feel comfortable inviting a non-political workmate or friend to a sleek professionally presented and well thought out training program that rivals the presentation of a capitalist firm or business union? yeah absolutely.
would i really see the point in inviting the same person to a 'suggestions for organising' washout that wasn't confident enough in its own content to throw all its weight behind attempting to persuade the attendee to adopt its methods? fuck no!
The communist is unable to identify anything in this statement that has anything at all to do with the critique of capitalism. It is imbued with the logic of the commodity form. It argues for the development of a red and black commodity that will appeal to consumerist conventions. 

In practice the movement of consciousness towards communist relations is messy and difficult. Communism is an untidy composting midden of affects and retrieved memory traces and not some pumping promo vid. It requires therapeutic relations which de-train and de-programme. Critique is counter-intuitive and painful, it depends upon the work of the other. It cannot be manufactured in an anarcho-syndicalist factory.

Whilst it is likely that organiser training does encourage a never back down approach in its militants wherever the group is called into question, it is more interesting to examine the very notion of a trained opposition. This substitutes a set of branded images and quantities in the place of lived experience and seeks to draw further support through the easy communication of these. The reduction of class struggle to easily consumed massified ideological commodities has always drawn communist critique of syndicalism. One of the IWW militants describes the experience of training in his own words:
Being in a room full of "peers" and having them go hard at you in a make believe address or raising a resolution at a meeting dominated by trade union hacks is a hellava lot better then going at it cold feet...."trust me" I got ripped to shreds the first few times I tried it in a reformist union meeting. Point being, you toughen up a bit, you have a bit of an expectation, you learn some of the parameters of certain "dos and don'ts".
The production of militants is integrated into the reproduction of variable capital, over which the militant, under certain circumstances, is factored in to becomes its capitalist. The militant is produced within the group by a rite of challenge or ‘ripping’ which desensitises or ‘toughens’ him. It is a self-initiated process which converts his humanity into an ideological role integrated into the general process of the reproduction of variable capital. Externally, his function is to return all critique of capitalist relations to questions of the management of production (rendered invisible as it is directed towards need). 

Anarcho-syndicalism’s objectified function is to realise the capitalist version of communism as the dominance of society by repressive productivist codes. It extends the logic of capital into the worker’s opposition to work and substitutes the ideology of self-management for a full critique of the conditions of existence. Anarcho-syndicalism’s opposition to capitalism is equivalent to the truncated critique of finance-capital (minus the structural anti-semitism) but located within the industrial domain. It manifests its bullying in support of its brands at precisely the points where it falls into line with the left wing of capital’s ambitions for the proletariat as happily integrated into production. The self-deceiving anarcho-syndicalist fanatic is therefore indistinguishable from any other ideologically motivated bully, his inculcated motivation is to sell the brand, and thus extend market share.

Self-managed ripping and toughening is the process by which is produced an array of ideological traits which Camatte describes as repressive consciousness. This array attenuates human capacity to the purely workmanlike, a condition which radically opposes ‘bosses’ and ‘profit’ but which is incapable of reflecting upon its own bound character.

The militant of repressive consciousness thus presents to other workers the substituted image of toughened worker-heroes (stakhanovites) who are to step in and salvage production for rational use and the good of all when ‘profit’ and ‘bosses’ have run the world into the ground. Via repressive consciousness, and its fetish of utilitarian production, militantism is an unwitting instrument in the defensive wall of capitalist social relations. The function of hero-workers is to exploit themselves during economic crisis as a temporary management strategy until normal conditions are re-established.

The increased rate in production of militants is capital’s means of preparation for a phase of more or less militarised domination of society by variable labour and its technocratic ideologues who will be substituted into the fully realised role of managerial class. 

By contrast, again, those who would tentatively describe themselves as impossibilist communists refuse to countenance their self-submission to the processes of ‘ripping’ and ‘toughening’ and, contrariwise, invite others to express themselves and reflect therapeutically upon those forces which speak through them. Communism absolutely opposes the syndicalist emphasis on productionism.

Impossibilism’s anti-militancy asserts instead an orientation towards re-sensitisation, a project which (if it is to avoid the prescriptive from) must always tend to a condition of unpreparedness, inarticulacy and falling silent when faced with the unknown – quite distinct from the prepared scripts of trained militancy. Training is specifically designed within capitalist reproduction to inhibit thought and human feeling – it is inconceivable that such training when applied to the mass production of militants could lead to anything but authoritarianism and repressive consciousness. 

Impossibilist communism is therefore essentially defined by multiple oppositions to, and divergences from, quantitatively trained comportments. Where communism is the nurturing and care of human beings for themselves, who must by definition, be protected from having to function in accord with authoritarian roles, this divergence must particularly apply to those prescribed roles of self-emancipation and self-sacrifice which the repressive ideologies of variable capital such as anarcho-syndicalism demand. 

Next: on therapeutic attempts to refuse variety attenuation in the small group form
The curdled collectivity of the small group, as a substitutionist mechanism, is, above all, representational in its functioning – i.e. it is productive of fragmentary mimetic constructions of the world. Just as it is objectively condensed into a representation of innumerable strands of introjected experience so it also reduces innumerable external domains of experience into its representations of them (all of which thus bear its traceable authorial thumb print). 

Minorities will always take action on their own terms but they will also find themselves corrected theoretically by others attempting to think negatively about such actions from a self-alienating position. I see the main task for impossibilists as 'thinking the corrective'. They must reintroduce other terms into that which is taking place beyond their control. The worst circumstance within any political formation is for it to pass into a state of positive feedback and suffer the inevitable variety attenuation – as can be seen in every small group’s ‘aims and principles’. I see the task of impossibilists to always increase the number and depth of problems that must be addressed and not attempt to solve them. The open problem draws in a greater number of knowledges and abilities.

All this simply re-presents a thorough scepticism concerning the unity of theory and practice within a single project. Given that behaviours are are always naturally and healthily divergent, it would be coincidental (and also unhealthy) if, amongst all of human society's complex variety, a single structure could simultaneously identify problems and also provide solutions. Such thinking is the outcome of over-reliance on small group constructions of the feasible. 

Running against the flow of quantitative militant production, by which humans are converted into vessels of oppositional traits, the conscious fielding of other discursive strains within the space of the small group (strains other than that of the group’s representational/substitutionist project) increases the number and types of different voices which naturally counters the propensity for automated disciplinarian responses appearing within its frame. 

Self-attenuation, the tightening spiral of decrease in returns (leading to a final dissipation of energy), is the fate of all small groups as they seek to establish their particularity as a general rule. However, this tendency can be regulated through an optimisation of reciprocal behaviours. 

As I indicated above, the increase in flow of divergent forms of knowledge within a decision making apparatus, inhibits the slippage of that apparatus into the barbarous state of information attenuation... i.e. the point tended towards where there is only one repressive frame of reference (say syndicalist organisationalist motifs). Wherever ‘aims and principles’ rule over small group relations, a corresponding tendency to bullying and sect-like behaviour increases. 

The conceptual tools for increasing our understanding of social phenomena are accessible to all (although only a few of them are to be found in, for example, marxism) and can be appropriated and modified to suit the purpose of relating the small group to the world; if the will is there.

The point of understanding inherited behaviours is always to therapeutically access and intervene at a higher level so as to release the participants from the binds which force them to repeat the same reified actions (I am sure you also enjoy the film, Céline et Julie vont en bateau in which this idea of release is explored). Impossibilist theory proposes that there will be less bloodshed if a relational bind is released at a higher order of recursion.

As an addendum: it is also possible that substitutionism occurs in the ready form of an allegation in group b’s reading of group a’s account of their own actions (rather than in the actual actions that are undertaken by group a). That is to say, substitutionism is basically a negative component of the political identity of group b. It seems to me that if this is the case, and there is no such thing as substitutionism except in the practice of ultra-left exegesis, then this probably also relates to the psychological issues addressed in the discussion of how political gangs represent their rivals.

Loose fragments on the sect as the subject of their umwelt

Small groups are always untimely, they form against the general flow of things, they hold on to something otherwise not articulated generally and make it their kernel. The group is always rendered distinct

Untimeliness as decisive characteristic of groups: the remnant of what once was; the precursor of what will be; the mythic.

Organisation appears at the end of a process, giving form to what is finished. 

And yet every group is also a running together of the remnant, the precursor, the mythic; the 'how many of you are there?' in the SI questionnaire. 

The anarcho-syndicalists express incredulity at the suggestion that the formation does not express what it does but instead indicates a process that has now finished, of what will be, of the outside. The organised structure always does something other than what it has been organised to do. It never does what it has been organised to do

Some exemplary small groups in films:

The Seven Samurai
Nada (Chabrol)
The third generation (Fassbinder)
Discreet charm of the bourgeoisie
Of Gods and Men

The communists, as a small group, are a remnant of a time now passed – but severance from their moment situates such castaways in an ideal position for developing otherwise than their time demands. They are capable of encountering within their projects the means of attaining a further stage in self-reflexivity*. Just as the for-itself is situated on the other side of the in-itself, so the empathic for-the-other is situated on the far side of the for-itself. No longer driven forward by their time, no longer in the circumstance where their own ideas are in everybody's heads... they are cut adrift and subject to experiments in feedback runaway. 

*narcissism of small difference.

In the three years since the founding of the sect, each of these "three free men" managed to convert three others. The nine men of the second generation initiated twenty-seven over the next three years. The sixth level, in 1975, numbered seven hundred and twenty-nine members, including Ashikage Yoshimitsu, who was given the task, along with some other members, of spreading the new faith in the West. [...] Smautf has calculated that in 1978 there would be two thousand one hundred and eighty-seven new members of the sect of The Three Free Men, and assuming none of the older disciples dies, a total of three thousand two hundred and seventy-seven keepers of the faith. Then things would go much faster: by 2017, the nineteenth generation would run to more than a thousand million people. In 2020, the entire planet, and well beyond, would have been converted.
Perec, Life A Users Manual

To accept our lack of power and our poverty is an invitation and an urgent call to create with others relationships that are not based on power; when I recognise my weakness, I can accept that of others, and see a way for me to imitate Christ. This attitude transforms our mission. It invites us to renounce all pretension of superiority in our encounters with others, however weak they are? This attitude of weakness can be misunderstood. Weakness in itself is not a virtue, but, rather , an expression of the essence of our nature, one which must be moulded and shaped by faith, hope, and love. To be weak is to be neither passive nor resigned; rather, it supposes courage and pushes us to struggle for justice and truth while resisting the elusive seduction of force and power?
Father Chessel Of Gods and Men