Monday, 26 October 2015

Pale Classroom (on the historical function of coming-to and anarchism's place in it)

1. 'I support Syriza, for example, as did Negri and several Greek anarchists I know, and Podemos [...]  The mobilization of political power is essential and the state cannot be neglected as a potential site for radicalization.' Whatever the merits of his argumentation, this is the substance of David Harvey's politics. But the specifics of what Harvey supports and what he opposes is of less interest than the historical antinomies which are revealed by his controversies with anarchists.

2.  Harvey's critique of horizontalism, rhizomatics, openness and decentralisation is cogently argued and supported by robust reasoning. His demonstration of the limits to anarchist organisation, with particular reference to its scale, is indisputably accurate (even if it emerges from the absurdity of a pro-state position).

3. Then, it is passing strange, and passing pitiful, that anarchists such as Steven Springer (the target of Harvey's riposte) may develop equally rational critiques of marxist arguments for the radical state. When read in parallel, both Harvey's critique of Springer, and Springer's critique of Harvey are eminently plausible. How can this be? For what purpose does historical process support two mutually exclusive theoretical paths without resolving objectively on one side or the other?

4. It is probable that committed representations of all possible modes of organisation are equally supported under present conditions. It is also probable that all possible alternatives to the present are equally unrealisable except as representations constrained by existing conditions. But the antinomical findings of specific instances of committed consciousness also indicate an incommensurability between the function of consiousness itself, and the process of world-building. It seems consciousness must end where any adherence to organisational form begins. Consciousness qua consciousness is always the repudiation of this organisational form, and contrariwise, wherever consciousness becomes less than functionally critical of a given form, it becomes, to that measure, less than optimally conscious.

5. Where consciousness suspends critique so as to define the objects of its sympathy, it thereby suspends its own function. Thus, David Harvey is strong in his critique of Steven Springer's argument for anarchist organisation but he is weak in his argument for the potential of a radical state. Similarly, Steven Springer is strong in his critique of the 'marxian' utilisation of the formality of educational processes to exclude anarchist ideas, but weak in his defence of self-organisation. In both cases, a radical disjunction is discerned between the elective projects of committed consciousness and the objective process of autonomic world-building and the subsidiary function of consciousness as such within that process.

6. As a second order function of world-building, consciousness is impelled to take a committed form and thus suspend itself before something. This something of the world is what it must align to. From the point of this commitment, by which relation it may appear in the world, consciousness is capable of critique of all things in the world except that hook of its commitment from which it dangles. Every instance of consciousness is blind to the categories of its own commitment whilst at the same time is impelled to disclose the weak spots in the commitments of others. If consciousness is constrained to situate its operational autonomy between the acts of repudiating and incorporating given forms, then this is still sufficient to distract it from its dependency upon the ever-accumulating past of which it is both the product and margin. As a last defence, consciousness will fall into a state of torpor wherever it encounters the vast structuring of unresponsive autonomic operations which mark the limit of its viable range.

7. David Harvey suspends the work of consciousness before the state form, whilst Steven Springer suspends critique before 'reciprocal ethics.' Thus, even in its most elaborated form, consciousness retains a basic rubber stamping function - and for this reason, it is never sufficiently conscious to gain supremacy over world-building and thereby seize hold of that which it has lately become aware. David Harvey's consciousness is sensitised to anarchist claims of 'decentralisation' and it is from this sensitisation that his argumentation proceeds. Steven Springer is sensitised to marxism's integration into the academic apparatus by which it re-capitalises its claims, and so he rehearses his arguments against the plausibility of using the state for other ends. But consciousness as a whole, no matter the points of its internal self-differentiations and the distractions of local controversies contained within its domain, is itself historically situated upon the brink of subsumption by the technical discourses of social production.

8.  To the extent that communism is the sublation of driven history by critical consciousness (that is by electively constituted, autonomous, living activity), it is worthwhile to probe the limits to this awareness: before which object does communism suspend its critique?

9.  Traditionally, both marxist-leninism and social democracy have suspended consciousness before the sentimentalised image of the 'labour republic'. Variant ideological imperatives, identitarianism, 'solidarity', instrumentalisation and the fetish of use-value are mobilised against the possibility of critique. Certainly, there is little reason for the anarchists' continuing investment in the mythic capacity of marxists to seize the state - 'Syriza', and the resurgent European left in general, adequately demonstrate the historic eclipse of the political path to power. Of more relevance, is marxism's alliance with the academy - a partly conscious 'long march', not so much towards proletarian revolution (from which the left is fatally separated by the terms of the march itself) but to neutralise potential rivals (an identitarian project which cannot distinguish between institutional and objective gains). In practice, the potential threat of marxism's deployment of state processes pales besides its manoeuvring of ideological representations by which it may legitimise itself to the academy on measurable and quantitative, i.e. on scholastic, grounds. Anarchism's reliance upon its critique of representation in pursuit of the lived and emergent, sets it at a permanent disadvantage in the academy. The measure to which anarchism may reproduce itself as a 'movement' also measures the extent of its calcification - every success under present conditions marks its failure to escape them.

10. Above all this, and more significantly, consciousness becomes objectively torpid every time it remembers that the momentum of productive forces exceeds its capacity to direct them - it has effective force only where the decisive category of production is absent, but production has passed into a stage where it is never absent. Then, consciousness undertakes a dual, self-delimiting function within hostile surroundings (where the conditions that cause it to appear must also erase it), a function which both puts it at further risk whilst also operating as a defence mechanism. Organisational form is exteriorised and subjected to critique (a process by which consciousness comes to). But where form is introjected, consciousness suspends itself and soothes itself to sleep. Consciousness is always either 'uploaded', converted into sinew and bone, or it is 'steamrollered.'

11 'I think it's high time to admit that modern 1968 anarchism is pretty much in a death spiral...'   Indeed, and communism too. The decadence of its periphery indicates a final crisis at the core of the possibility for critical awareness. Consciousness is not adequate to its purpose - the momentum of organisation, saturated with accumulated concrete activity, is always and already ahead of it.

12. Consciousness only comes to, as a survival mechanism in the absence of the material support for life. It makes up in thought for what is structurally absent. It bridges the gap, it compensates for the lack of material tools and processes - it functions where quick wits could make a difference. At the least, it is a record of process gone wrong. But a historical threshold has been passed by which the degree of domestication has exceeded the range of consciousness to make a difference if social production goes wrong. As a consequence, consciousness is being put to sleep, it is slipping into a permanent state of torpor.

13. It is true that consciousness has always been dying - by its nature, it is a process-bound 'event' occurring fleetingly wherever the social autonomic has been suspended, where a new idea, a new way of doing things, has a chance to germinate. Consciousness functioned in previous ages as a defence mechanism of community process: it flared; took up arms in social crisis; plugging the gap in reality; it self-managed possibility. Faith only appears in a vacuum. Whenever world-building caught up with it, and reasserted material social process, consciousness died back (if world-building did not arrive in time, then community withers). However, an objective threshold of organisation has been passed beyond which consciousness may serve no useful function - it has lost its economic rationale. Crisis in world-production is now only addressable by technical discourses. Consciousness, by which we mean critique, has become materially superfluous. The glacial chatter of computers is surpassing, and grinding to gravel, the improvisatory capabilities of the social. Then, we may conclude that the historic decline of general consciousness accelerates in line with the piling up of the dead labour which confronts it as a surplus of adhering automated procedures, as a totalising system of self-integrating parts, as the organisation of organisation.

14. Consciousness, as consciousness, has always deliberately sought to occupy the outer limits of its viable range. It has sought to increase the rate of its reproduction in precisely those conditions least conducive to it. Its richly flavoured flesh, produced under conditions of stress, gently hint at coastal flora: glasswort, sea purslane, samphire and sea lavender. Consciousness has eternally desired to yield to world-building forces: its thinking is nothing but the sending up of a distress signal from the colonised unknown. All thinking is the desire for the relief from thinking. Consciousness is a sentinel posted in the breach of production, awaiting reinforcement from the categories of work. Poetry and scripture stand at the ragged gap where nature pokes through, waiting for the social (with its bulldozers and bureaucracy) to catch up. Every instance of consciousness lays the groundwork, in vigilant thinking, for its own supersession by social process. But also, historically, as a processive function, consciousness prepares for the moment it will never be required again. This last torpor, this higher order torpor, from which consciousness will not be reawakened, the reaching of its outer limit, is nonetheless, from its own position, a spectacular and cosmic event. These are the best of days, because they are the last of days, for thinking at the edge of things. Consciousness at last, one quarter, two quarters, three quarters devoured takes on an autonomous lustre. It is only where it is confronted with its own extinction, where its fleeting and emergent character are fully articulated, bathed in the final rays of the day, that consciousness may recognise the exquisite quality of completion by its own erasure. Like the unrequited call of the last corncrake of the meadows of Clonmacnoise, consciousness comes to, is really itself, in the moment it registers that it has been put to bed, that it is, despite its vigilance, nodding off.

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