Saturday, 21 September 2013

Fragment on Comparative Decomposition

These are some notes I made after attending a gathering of comrades discussing the thirtieth anniversary (or perhaps birthday) of the Midnight Notes Collective. In other words they are from 2008. This meeting led eventually to the Promissory Notes pamphlet. 

I’m posting them here not so much as a response to that but in the sense the overall point I was trying to make, that a greater comparative focus on class decomposition and the forms of political recomposition that are made possible by it, still strikes me as a compelling point. And it’s one that I’d like to revisit and expand in a more substantive. Or something like that anyways…

First off let me apologize again for taking so long to write this, which is especially lame given as I wrote down these notes in June. Sigh… lame excuses aside, here we go:

I have to admit being a bit surprised to encounter the framing of discussion at the gathering in June in terms of crisis theory, or more particularly the framing of the operaisti / autonomist Marxist argument of the determining nature of working class resistance as a theory of crisis. The reason for that I suppose is more one of association than anything else, namely that whenever I hear the phrase “crisis theory” my immediate association is some form of econo-mystic determinism, searching for the direction of a falling rate of profit that will lead inevitably to a crisis in the system and collapse, at which point the emergent revolutionary subject can… well, you know the story. In other words for me crisis theory was also the province of a kind of structuralist Marxism that I thought would be almost directly opposite to a broadly workerist / autonomist politics.

Marxist magician raises class struggle from grave through econo-mystic incantations

But thinking about it more it makes, as one can see how Tronti’s work as well as many others can be thought of as crisis theory, but namely one of how emergent forms of antagonism and collective subjectivity trigger crisis rather than being determined by structural laws of capital. But then this gets to what seemed to be one of the main threads of discussion during the gathering, namely a certain questioning of articles of faith, or that there indeed might be crises that are not triggered by forms of resistance. For instance, it would strike me as somewhat difficult at least to show how the current financial crisis is a direct result of working class struggle.

It's me, Mario! I mean, Tronti-o...

While I can understand this concern, to a degree it seems a bit misplaced. Tronti’s argument (as well as how it been developed subsequently) is really a political argument and intervention, not a theological or philosophical statement. This might be different for someone like Foucault or Deleuze when they posit the ontological primacy of resistance, but this is a separate matter that I’ll put aside for the moment. The key intervention here is a strategic one, namely a shifting of the focus back to working class resistance and composition rather than an assumption of the self-moving power of capital and all that. Now Tronti definitely overstates this a bit, to the point where both working class resistance is the determining factor of capitalist development and paradoxically the social factory is the moment where factory discipline is the exclusive model of social domination

Both of these seem, well, a bit overstated, but perhaps overstated to make a point. The argument is made for polemical and strategic weight, to add to its ability to act as a pole of political recomposition. So that means that there is no necessary reason when struck by a crisis where there is no immediate and apparent working class resistance that has caused it to search for some sort of political organizing which might have triggered in unseen strange loops, or to question the correctness of the thesis. Rather, it would seem fairly simple to just say that there are moments where capital’s internal contradictions generate crisis and there are many more moments for where forms of working class resistance, social insurgency, etc. generate crisis. They’re not mutually exclusive positions by any means. The question of the relation between them, and how to build forms of political recomposition out of that conjunction, however, is much more complicated and more pressing.

This brings us much closer to the point of the discussion, namely that of comparative decomposition.  The reason that I proposed a group on this topic is that while clearly there are many ways in which capital and the state are developed and draw from working class resistance and social resistance more generally, this is not a mechanical of straightforward dynamic. The primacy (or primacy of focus on compositional politics) on forms of resistance is not the flip side of a econo-mystic Marxism (the substitution of one form of determination for another), but rather the question of how to build from emergent compositions in ways that can cause rupture and build cycles of struggle.

The possibility of working from conditions of political decomposition does not necessarily mean that such will happen, or happen the same way in different places at the same time. So comparative decomposition then becomes a question to see in what ways forms of resistance are being drawn from in the continued workings of capital and the state, and what are the possibilities for political recomposition starting from these moments. That would be the question and discussion that I would like to open (or re-open as the case may more likely be).

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