Back from our brief escape from the city.
Month: June 2020
XG Reading Group 1.4: “Double Articulation and Time”
Palestinian Lives Matter
Rebecca Long-Bailey was fired today for retweeting an interview with Maxine Peake in the Independent in which Peake claims the Israeli police taught American police the restraint techniques that have been killing unarmed black men and women throughout the US.
Clearly this is the result of a Labour Party hair trigger on the issue — warranted after the last few years of chaos — but how inaccurate is the claim really?
The offending paragraph reads as following:
“I don’t know how we escape that cycle that’s indoctrinated into us all,” continues the 45-year-old. “Well, we get rid of it when we get rid of capitalism as far as I’m concerned. That’s what it’s all about. The establishment has got to go. We’ve got to change it.” Born in Bolton to a lorry driver father and care worker mother, Peake is strident and expressive; if religion wasn’t anathema to her, she’d be perfect in the pulpit. “Systemic racism is a global issue,” she adds. “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.” (A spokesperson for the Israeli police has denied this, stating that “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”.)
It’s a thorny claim. Is it inflammatory? Clearly. But does that amount to antisemitism or just anti-Zionist hyperbole? The Israeli police may deny that they have recommended the use of that particular tactic, but they don’t deny that the US have trained with them, and so Peake’s overarching point — that systemic racism is a global issue — remains perfectly in tact.
In this regard, Amnesty International supports Peake’s claim. In an article on US forces training with their Israeli equivalents, they report:
The Department of Justice report cited Baltimore police for using aggressive tactics that “escalate encounters and stifle public cooperation.” This leads, the report said, to use of unreasonable force during interactions for minor infractions, such as quality of life matters. Furthermore, the report details how an overall lack of training leads to excessive force being used against those with mental health issues, juveniles and people who present “little or no threat against others,” such as those already restrained.
For years, Amnesty International has found Israeli military, security and police forces responsible for the same behavior.
Most tellingly, however, is this article on US-Israeli cooperation when training law enforcement from the Jewish Virtual Library, which reports that these exercises began in earnest following 9/11:
In January 2003, thirty-three senior U.S. law enforcement officials — from Washington, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston and Philadelphia — traveled to Israel to attend a meeting on “Law Enforcement in the Era of Global Terror.” The workshops helped build skills in identifying terrorist cells, enlisting public support for the fight against terrorism and coping with the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
“We went to the country that’s been dealing with the issue for 30 years,” Boston Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans said. “The police are the front line in the battle against terrorism. We were there to learn from them — their response, their efforts to deter it. They touched all the bases.”
“I think it’s invaluable,” said Washington, DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey about the instruction he received in Israel. “They have so much more experience in dealing with this than we do in the United States.”
What exactly is the terrorism that Chief Ramsey is referring to here? Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation? There are Palestinian groups that have absolutely committed terrorist offences under international law, but the Israeli forces are hardly capable of discerning who is a Palestinian terrorist and who is just a Palestinian. Their shameful record on human rights abuses makes that abundantly clear. It is evidently Israel’s position to fight terrorism with terrorism.
This is exactly what we’ve seen in the US in recent months, in which the police fight those protesting against police brutality by turning their brutality up to 11. It should not be controversial to suggest that the USA treats its black citizens the same way that Israel treats the Palestinians. As far as they are concerned, both are the enemy within.
Kier Starmer’s response to a claim like Peake’s — intimated indirectly via Rebecca Long-Bailey — should not be to blow the anti-Semitism whistle on a rival but to get down on his stupid knee again and make a change.
If black lives matter, Palestinian lives matter too.
Front Window #12: Northern Insomnia (The End?)
The other week, our familial corona-bubble left London to move back up north and we got jealous quick so followed them up there. We’re desperate to leave London after this is all over and this recent adventure has only solidified that desire even further.
It’s been an odd little trip. On the one hand, we’ve finally managed to experience some extended time in the great outdoors — rather than the sort of fleeting hop over the city limits that this series has inadvertently become dominated by — but it has also had some negative consequences of its own.
For much of the first week, I was suffering from the worst insomnia I’ve had in years. I was a zombie. Thinking — never mind any more practical activity — was a futile endeavour. It’s all down to cat allergies, I think. Very mundane stuff. But it made me think about where I was eighteen months ago, on an experimental sleep trial in Bedlam. It may be time to crack out the sleep gear again.
I’ve pushed through it though, trying to work on a forthcoming project, and these past few days have been incredibly productive. I’ve properly broken the back on a book I’ve wanted to write for some time, bringing together all this blog’s /acc writings and contextualising them within the lost history of the accelerationist blogosphere. (I’m 40,000 words into that right now, so could potentially finish the first draft in another month or so. But the shift back to London life might also slow things down as life speeds back up.)
The central premise of the book is that, along the way, acc forgot its purpose: dealing with the crisis of negation in postmodernity. Whilst there are arguments to be made that acc moved on from this, the fatal association acc has right now with the far-right’s violent impotence is as ironic as it is horrifying — acc’s original critiques are as applicable to itself as they are anything else.
Drawing this out has been thrilling for a blog anorak like me. I only hope it’s as thrilling to read.
It’s been great to have the head space to work on new things like this — head space that is mirrored by the breathing space of the north. It’s silly, really. The title of this little Corona diary series is woefully unfit for purpose now, three months later. It was initially a bad pun, a nod to Rear Window — a film I intended to watch early on to consider the parallels between James Stewart’s house-bound peeping paranoia and our comparable lockdown curtain twitching from our flat’s singular, outward-facing window; we don’t have a rear one — but I’ve put this off for so long now that lockdown is supposedly over (but for how long?) and our perspective on the world couldn’t be any wider. The parochialism of coronavirus is now distinctly out of the window rather than in it. I never really got a chance to ponder the blinkers.
So, no more “Front Window” posts. Time to move on, in more ways than one.
These last few weeks have really made my partner and I realise that life needs to change. Of course, it has already changed. But more needs to change soon and keep changing after the government enforces a new sense of normality. This is most true with work. I’m currently unemployed (at least I think I am; Covid made my day job increasingly precarious until it just stopped — flaky employers) and so I really need to figure out a way to make freelancing work for me consistently. I’m adamant to make it happen now. No more falling back on shitty arts jobs funded by bourgeois vanity. Time to make a real go of things so we can finally escape London misery.
On a related note, if you’ve ever thought about supporting the blog or signing up for the Patreon (the current Friday reading group sessions have been amazing), now really is the best time. It will make a huge difference and allow for so much more time to make new things. And time is really the main takeaway from the last three months of madness. I have realised I like to savour it.
Right now all I want is a remote life among rocks. Deep time, not London time.
Are We The Baddies?
Black Lives Matter sends identity politics into a feeding frenzy but it only ends up chomping on itself. The argument here from Matthew Goodwin is simple: a collective sense of self is detrimental to an individual sense of self.
But that’s precisely the argument being Black Lives Matter, isn’t it? Capitalism’s tyranny of the individual has, for too long, ruled over the subjugated collective.
This is only problematic if you think individual subjectivity has supremacy over group consciousness, and that is already the default position of society at large. Strangely, Goodwin is exactly right about idpol — and this is why Black Lives Matter belongs distinctly to something other. It is the “White Lives Matter” crowd who drag it down into the muck of identity politics (read: “individual identity politics”). Because of this, Goodwin betrays a lack of critical reflection regarding this core aspect of the meaning of Black Lives Matter — the correct response to which is an ejection of capitalism’s constant stoking of competition.
Black Lives Matter is distinctly non-competitive. It demands an answer to a simple question: “Don’t we matter?” The collective nature of the retort is hard-baked into their standpoint due to the oppression faced. Individuals murdered at the hands of the police are not murdered for their individuality but because they are seen as “Black people”, i.e. a member of an ethnic group. Part of the oppression of Black lives is that this collective perspective is enforced — the foundation for any instance of profiling. The raising of Black group consciousness is, then, wholly necessary if Black lives are to combat the extent to which society declares “you are the bad ones.”
The irony of “White Lives Matter” is that this statement, in turn, responds defiantly to the implicit message of Black Lives Matter, betraying their blinkered perspective through such a hopelessly myopic misunderstanding of the stakes involved.
This is to say that “Black Lives Matter” declares we are not the bad ones. Proponents of “White Lives Matter”, who betray their racism by demonstrating they can only think in dualisms, are implicitly declaring: well, neither are we! And whitey doth protest too much, methinks, because this response does not emerge defiantly from an oppressed consciousness; it emerges from a consciousness not used to thinking of itself any differently.
Insert Mitchell and Webb meme:
Rather than skulls on hats, the attacks on our nations’ statues illustrate another part of the problem of capitalism. We may not march forth under an explicit banner of death but we do march uncritically under the tyranny of the individual — and many of these individuals have committed crimes against humanity; against the human collective.
All lives don’t matter if Black lives don’t matter — this is the message of BLM rendered most succinctly. But, beyond this, it is also true that all lives don’t matter so long as we retain our flawed devotion to individuals. This is the hypocrisy of London’s Parliament Square. There is an implicit sense that the statue of Winston Churchill, architect of the Bengal famine, is offset by his stone neighbour: Mahatma Ghandi. But in both instances, the championing of the individual covers over the facts: that Churchill killed millions whilst Ghandi fought for millions. But in each instance the deeper point is missed. We champion leaders, not lives, and this is implicitly a capitalist perspective. We champion business leaders, not workers. We declare that, on the few occasions when workers rise through the ranks to be leaders, this is evidence that we care about the mass. But we don’t. We care about individuals.
This is why names like George Floyd float to the top. But Floyd has not been championed because he is exceptional but because he represents a statistic. In fact, it is as an individual that he is denounced. He wasn’t a leader in his community. He wasn’t a figure to rally behind. So why should we rally behind him? But the denouncing of Floyd’s individual character only further highlights the extent to which they miss the point. George Floyd, in the moment of his death, was not George Floyd, he was a Black man. And it is Black lives that matter.
XG Reading Group 1.3: “Lovecraft and Philosophy”
Taking the Knee: Black Lives Matter, Subjugation and Sovereignty
Dominic Raab came under fire today for saying he doesn’t understand the gesture of “taking the knee” as a form of protest, saying it is “a symbol of subjugation and subordination” from Game of Thrones and, other than when he proposed to his wife, he’ll only be caught doing it before the queen.
The fury at Raab supposedly comes from his complete misunderstanding of the act’s context — its origin in Colin Kapernick’s bizarrely controversial habit of kneeling during the US national anthem before football games. For a government official to not possess what is general knowledge for anyone who has watched these protests unfold over the last few years is quite shocking. If anyone should be paying attention to the growing protest movements in other countries, surely it is the UK’s foreign secretary?
But is Raab wrong beyond that?
After all, “taking the knee” is a sign of subjugation, in much the same way “hands up, don’t shoot” is — it is a symbolic relinquishing of personal sovereignty; a gesture to remind cops of their power and responsibility, and a plea that they don’t abuse it. This is surely the same symbolic meaning behind kneeling before a monarch? When the queen lowers that sword onto your shoulders to knight you, it is as much a sign of mutual trust as it is of deference. In our present moment, however, it is a gesture that only serves to highlight how little mutual trust there is.
Neomi Bennett’s case, also in the news today, demonstrates precisely why this kind of protest is necessary. A widely respected nurse, who had even been honoured by the queen for her services to nursing, she was arrested for obstruction because she didn’t trust the police officers who had pulled her over; police officers who were as bemused by her fear as she was of their lack of probable cause. Why does her lack of trust in police give them reason to arrest her, whilst their lack of trust in a black woman sat in her car is no grounds for disciplinary action? Who is supposed to be serving who here?
This is precisely why the sight of Keir Starmer or the police taking the knee alongside protesters often looks hollow. These government officials and police use it as a vague reminder to protesting citizens that police officers and politicians, in their turn, are citizens too. But this is little more than an illusion, made possible by the thin veil of what constitutes parliamentary democracy in the twenty-first century. Because they still hold the sword. A police officer should only take the knee after resigning. Until then, it makes as much sense as kneeling before the queen so that she can kneel back. Taking the knee is an all too temporary gesture if, when you stand up again, you’re still wielding the sword of the state.
In this sense, the reference to Game of Thrones is oddly fitting. When characters talk about taking the knee to show deference to their rulers, it is a sign of necessary surrender. But there is a palpable difference in the show between taking the knee for an unofficial leader, who vows to fight for the subjugated, and taking the knee before a tyrant. (The cognitive dissonance of police officers comes from their mistaken belief that they are the former when their behaviour points more towards the latter.)
Surely this is why Kapernick combines his kneeling with a fist raised aloft, as a sign of unity and solidarity, much like Tommie Smith and John Carlos before him. There’s an almost Nietzschean-Bataillean foundation to this gesture, as a seemingly paradoxical gesture of subjugated power. In this sense, the power of the movement rests of its foundation in profound loss, in loss of life, and the power of taking the knee comes from doing so before police who are a probable threat to your life. Beyond its present usage, Kapernick taking the knee placed an inconvenient truth centre-stage within American life — whilst they sing about the land of the free, he represents the home of the brave, daring to remind the world that, in America, black lives are subjugated lives.
But this very suspension of being had given rise to a movement more sovereign than any that has come before it.
Xenofeminism and the Problem of the Non-Alienated Region
Alex has written a really fantastic blogpost on the tensions between immanence and transcendence in the Xenofeminist Manifesto. It chimes with something I’ve been thinking about recently, after spending quite a bit of time with Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy. (I’m going to pull on this thread here, which may or may not resonate with Alex’s post — I cannot claim to be as well acquainted with XF’s named antecedents as she is.)
The sense in which “alienation” is used in xenofeminism’s self-described “politics of alienation” has been a sticking point for a few people in recent years — and Alex’s response to this handwringing is entertaining enough: “I don’t care enough to comment”. But I do feel like, indirectly at least, Alex has sketched the outline of a figure that these critiques always fail to see.
This figure emerges in the form of a fundamental tension, which Alex draws out as follows:
For XF, calls to nature are power moves — linguistic expressions of the will to power that inadvertently locks one into a prison — in which we “are told to seek solace in unfreedom, staking claims on being ‘born’ this way, as if offering an excuse with nature’s blessing” (Cuboniks 2015, 5). Appeals to nature — or more specifically, truth in nature — are “a retreat from what makes trans and queer politics more than just a lobby: that it is an arduous assertion of freedom against an order that seemed immutable” (Cuboniks 2015, 5). Here, nature is figured as a kind of limit which must be overcome — an order that can be overthrown or escape. This xenofeminism confronts a prison, sure, but prisons have outsides: they are escapable.
Yet while this XF is embedded rather neatly in the language of transcendence, hardly two pages later the manifesto shatters any illusion of transcendence or the possibility (possibilities?) therein. With a heavy dose of Donne Haraway, XFM reads: “‘Nature’ — understood here, as the unbounded arena of science — is all there is“ (Cuboniks 2015, 4). Where the previous XF almost yearns for a kind of innocence (though I’m sure no one will ever admit to it), this other Xenofeminism — where nature is not a limit but “all there is” — invokes Haraway’s unwavering refusal to tease out the organic and the inorganic: “we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism” (Cuboniks 2015, 2).
This tension has led to a number of critics trying to tease out just what exactly XF is talking about when it talks about alienation. The first of these was Annie Goh’s for Mute magazine, which many found to be deficient in constructing a flawed history of the term’s philosophical uses. I’ve been nursing an argument recently that this article’s paranoic drawing of lines around certain senses of the term doesn’t get us anywhere because it misses out a central if silent reference: Lyotard.
Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy declares — controversially, of course — that there is a false tautology in most understandings of alienation in the present, as if the presence of alienation suggests there is some non-alienated region for us to escape to. But this position, more often than not, falls back on primitivist arguments of retreat. When dealing with something like capitalism, this kind of logic is never not reactionary. It also ignores the extent to which people — specifically, the modern proletariat — enjoy their alienation, complicating the entangled processes of desire and capitalism.
I’m partly interested in this because of my current research into adoption and surrogacy. Because, despite all the recent romanticising of familial abolition, I find it interesting that there is little consideration of how adopted children (broadly speaking — that is, whatever the circumstances of their births) are quintessentially alienated subjects. It seems to me that any focus on the politics of surrogacy, though still valuable in and of itself, can only ever have half of the picture if it refuses to consider the complex affects of alienation commonly experienced by those who are surrogates, who are born of surrogacy, or who raise surrogate children. This is because, no matter how emphatically the abolition of the family is called for, it nonetheless remains this oddly transcendental prison that we cannot see outside of.
This is intriguing for me in my research because I think it can be argued that most of the trauma experienced by those in the adoptive triad comes from the fact that they are outside of a societal limit of familial relations that are so abstract and yet so concrete. Each figure in this complex relationship is primed to escape the bounds of what we understand as a “family” but this very process of adoption and surrogacy exists in order to suture together some ill-fitting ideal. The resulting alienation occurs because, as we know, even though the nuclear family is a bygone category — with its failure statistically more common today than not — it remains a sort of transcendental institution that defines how we think about and imagine our domestic relations.
Mark Fisher wrote about this once, commenting on Beginning to See the Light by Ellen Willis, who mourns the extent to which the hippies, who were all for communal living, for a time, couldn’t get past the desire deep down to marry off and start a family. Mark writes:
The counterculture’s politics were anticapitalist, Willis argues, but this did not entail a straightforward rejection of everything produced in the capitalist field. Certainly, pleasure and individualism were important to what Willis characterizes as her “quarrel with the left,” yet the desire to do away with the family could not be construed in these terms alone; it was inevitably also a matter of new and unprecedented forms of collective (but non-statist) organization.
Willis declares her generation naive to have thought they could have done away with the desire for the family so swiftly. Mark talks about how this is prevalent in even the most unlikely of places — as even children who have been abused and are the products of abjectly dysfunctional families still yearn for the ideal — and the Right arguably preyed on this in the 1970s. He continues:
Willis insists that the return of familialism was central to the rise of the new Right, which was just about to be confirmed in grand style with the election of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. “If there is one cultural trend that has defined the seventies,” Willis wrote, “it is the aggressive resurgence of family chauvinism.” For Willis, perhaps the most disturbing signs of this new conservatism was the embrace of the family by elements of the Left, a trend reinforced by the tendency for former adherents of the counterculture (including herself) to (re)turn to the family out of a mixture of exhaustion and defeatism. “I’ve fought, I’ve paid my dues, I’m tired of being marginal. I want in!” Impatience — the desire for a sudden, total, and irrevocable change, for the end of the family within a generation — gave way to a bitter resignation when that (inevitably) failed to happen.
Mark goes on to claim that the questions raised by Willis’s obituary for the counterculture — not least in its admissions of impatience — are explicitly accelerationist, at least when coupled with a necessary clarification of the term. He writes:
I want to situate accelerationism not as some heretical form of Marxism, but as an attempt to converge with, intensify, and politicize the most challenging and exploratory dimensions of popular culture. Willis’s desire for “a social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude” and her “quarrel with the left” over desire and freedom can provide a different way into thinking what is at stake in this much misunderstood concept. A certain, perhaps now dominant, take on accelerationism has it that the position amounts to a cheerleading for the intensification of any capitalist process whatsoever, particularly the “worst,” in the hope that this will bring the system to a point of terminal crisis. … This formulation, however, is question-begging in that it assumes what accelerationism rejects — the idea that everything produced “under” capitalism fully belongs to capitalism. By contrast, accelerationism maintains that there are desires and processes which capitalism gives rise to and feeds upon, but which it cannot contain; and it is the acceleration of these processes that will push capitalism beyond its limits. Accelerationism is also the conviction that the world desired by the Left is post-capitalist — that there is no possibility of a return to a pre-capitalist world and that there is no serious desire to return to such a world, even if we could.
Here we see Lyotard’s charge, that the oppressed might enjoy their oppression, landing perhaps a little too close to home — and we cannot deny that XF has always been, quite explicitly, accelerationism-adjacent, whether in Fisher’s sense or otherwise.
I’d argue that Lyotard’s challenge of total alienation isn’t just a huge factor within capitalist realism but also in what Helen Hester has called “domestic realism”. In fact, we might argue that (part of) XF’s sense of alienation approaches the family in much the same way accelerationism approaches capitalism. We cannot disavow everything the family produces simply because of the circumstances of their genesis — not least because the ideal of the family is the primary foundation we have for a communal form of living. In this sense, we can use it as a starting point, as any politics of surrogacy surely has to do by default in our present moment. But this position necessitates the inclusion of Lyotard’s own problematic — we have to then account for the ways that parents and their children actually enjoy the tortorous Christmases, the shit family outings, the passed-on neuroses, the genetic familiarity…
When XF calls for transcendence from nature whilst acknowledging its immanence, surely this is the battleground they are describing? The call for the abolition of the family, of gender, of domestic realism, cannot fall back on the fallacy of a non-alienated region to set up camp in.
And if alienation is all there is, then the only way out is through.
Ideology Tumbles like a Statue: Notes on the Far Right, Žižek and Lukács
The hordes descending on UK cities to defend statues over the weekend have been laughable, even if their actions are telling.
As tweeted earlier, the argument that the Right have been peddling — that our nation’s old statues, installed by past generations, depicting slavers and the like, should stay up despite the current climate because they educate people — has been spectacularly undermined, as the statues’ defenders turn out to be the stupidest people around.
This all happened mere hours after Boris Johnson himself regurgitated the educational argument in an official statement.
He was immediately made to look like an idiot, as the All Lives Matter counter-protesters went on to attack police and damage property with far more wanton abandon than any of those people Johnson was denouncing.
Who are the “mindless thugs”, really? Those seeking to illuminate the more maligned periods of our history through focused civil action? Or a throng of galaxy-brained counter-protesters who have wrought more violence on the police than those actually campaigning for their abolition?
For all the calls to execute that kid who climbed the cenotaph last week, here we’ve got footage of someone pissing against a memorial to PC Keith Palmer.
Meanwhile, up the road, counter-protesters greet that same cenotaph with Nazi salutes — a cenotaph that had previously been “defaced” by little more than the presence of Black bodies in its vicinity.
Saturday was a fascist’s wet dream, as they got off on punching police and collectively pissing in the doorway of a branch of Boots.
It’s hard to make sense of such abject idiocy, but all we see here is the brainrot that occurs when you’re overcome by ideology. Of course the heinous crime of attacking statues — which are representative of ideology in the most implicit and pernicious fashion — has to be combated with a vibrant demonstration of the strength of ideological capture.
It makes no sense whatsoever from any viewpoint outside of this capture, but I hope it only helps to embolden those who’ve already been protesting these past few weeks, in affirming their distance from that strange mental enclosure.
The somnambulist action of these idiots reminded of this extended passage from Žižek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology, in which he digs below this sort of mindlessness, that hides its lack of logic under a thin veil of inconsistent principles (please excuse Žižek’s usual edgelording):
…for Lacan, the only point at which we approach this hard kernel of the Real is indeed the dream. When we awaken into reality after a dream, we usually say to ourselves ‘it was just a dream’, thereby blinding ourselves to the fact that in our everyday, wakening reality we are nothing but a consciousness of this dream. It was only in the dream that we approached the fantasy framework which determines our activity, our mode of acting in reality itself.
It is the same with the ideological dream, with the determination of ideology as a dreamlike construction hindering us from seeing the real state of things, reality as such. In vain do we try to break out of the ideological dream by ‘opening our eyes and trying to see reality as it is’, by throwing away the ideological spectacles: as the subjects of such a post-ideological, objective, sober look, free of so-called ideological prejudices, as the subjects of a look which views the facts as they are, we remain throughout ‘the consciousness of our ideological dream’. The only way to break the power of our ideological dream is to confront the Real of our desire which announces itself in this dream.
Let us examine anti-Semitism. It is not enough to say that we must liberate ourselves from so-called ‘anti-Semitic prejudices’ and learn to see Jews as they really are — in this way we will certainly remain victims of these so-called prejudices. We must confront ourselves with how the ideological figure of the ‘Jew’ is invested with our unconscious desire, with how we have constructed this figure to escape a certain deadlock of our desire.
Let us suppose, for example, that an objective look would confirm — why not? — that Jews really do financially exploit the rest of the population, that they do sometimes seduce our young daughters, that some of them do not wash regularly. Is it not clear that this has nothing to do with the real roots of our anti-Semitism? Here, we have only to remember the Lacanian proposition concerning the pathologically jealous husband: even if all the facts he quotes in support of his jealousy are true, even if his wife really is sleeping around with other men, this does not change one bit the fact that his jealousy is a pathological, paranoid construction.
Let us ask ourselves a simple question: in the Germany of the late 1930s, what would be the result of such a non-ideological, objective approach? Probably something like: ‘The Nazis are condemning the Jews too hastily, without proper argument, so let us take a cool, sober look and see if they are really guilty or not; let us see if there is some truth in the accusations against them.’ Is it really necessary to add that such an approach would merely confirm our so-called ‘unconscious prejudices’ with additional rationalizations? The proper answer to anti-Semitism is therefore not ‘Jews are really not like that’ but ‘the anti-Semitic idea ofJew has nothing to do with Jews; the ideological figure of a Jew is a way to stitch up the inconsistency of our own ideological system.’
Does this not capture almost every media talking point from the last two weeks?
These thugs are tearing down these statues too hastily, casting judgement upon them too readily; we must debate and take a sober look at the pictorial legacy of the slave trade in our society.
In response, the Major of London’s office erects hoardings around the cenotaph and Winston Churchill. To protect them? Or to make them disappear, once again, in plain sight?
This is something that Mark Fisher used to say a lot, particularly within the context of capitalist realism. The first move of any hegemonic ideology is to deny its own existence. It is when ideology becomes indistinguishable from reality that ideology has won. How telling that, once the ideological statues of our city centres lose their cloak of invisibility, they must be covered up with actual cloaks. The result? An intensification of ideological demonstrations to counter the removal of ideology from plain sight — but the demonstrators as a mindless as the stone from which the statues are made.
That’s not just an insult aimed at their lack of intelligence. It encapsulates the very calcifying process of ideology. As Lukács argues in History & Class Consciousness: ideology — and, indeed, history itself, as the backbone of ideology — reifies and turns to stone the subjects most firmly in its grasp:
History is no longer an enigmatic flux to which men and things are subjected. It is no longer a thing to be explained by the intervention of transcendental powers or made meaningful by reference to transcendental values. History is, on the one hand, the product (albeit the unconscious one) of man’s own activity, on the other hand it is the succession of those processes in which the forms taken by this activity and the relations of man to himself (to nature, to other men) are overthrown. So that if … the categories describing the structure of a social system are not immediately historical, i.e. if the empirical succession of historical events does not suffice to explain the origins of a particular form of thought or existence, then it can be said that despite this, or better, because of it, any such conceptual system will describe in its totality a definite stage in the society as a whole.
“History” itself — the illusion of history — is precisely the dream from which these ahistorical thugs cannot wake.
[T]he nature of history is precisely that every definition degenerates into an illusion: history is the history of the unceasing overthrow of the objective forms that shape the life of man. It is therefore not possible to reach an understanding of particular forms by studying their successive appearances in an empirical and historical manner. This is not because they transcend history, though this is and must be the bourgeois view with its addiction to thinking about isolated ‘facts’ in isolated mental categories. The truth is rather that these particular forms are not immediately connected with each other either by their simultaneity or by their consecutiveness. What connects them is their place and function in the totality and by rejecting the idea of a ‘purely historical’ explanation the notion of history as a universal discipline is brought nearer.
The far-right understanding of history is a bourgeois fairy tale — it tells them of nothing more than their own success. (This is most tragic for a newly maligned stereotype of the white working class man, who identifies more with his oppressor: a gaslit subject whose Stockholm Syndrome has been goaded for years by the far-right populists of recent years.) After all, ask yourself: Why do so many politicians end up writing their own history books? (Lest we forget that Boris Johnson wrote his own biography of Churchill.) Lukács has the answers.
This is why the distinction between the tearing down of statues as history becoming itself and history being destroyed are important. History is only fixed if we are fixed. We become reified as our histories are reified. For Lukács:
Reification is, then, the necessary, immediate reality of every person living in capitalist society. It can be overcome only by constant and constantly renewed efforts to disrupt the reified structure of existence by concretely relating to the concretely manifested contradictions of the total development, by becoming conscious of the immanent meanings of these contradictions for the total development.
This is partly why this moment is so interesting and, indeed, why the Black Lives Matter protests are the closest we have come to any truly accelerationist action in decades.
We have seen the ideology of capitalist realism wane among the (broadly) working classes — that is, among those who work — but, since capitalists make all the decisions, little change has come about. This is the crisis of the negative, and it is a crisis felt most impotently by whites — they lack the “standpoint” (as Lukács would call it) of the truly oppressed. This is why change is occurring only following an attack on the statues that represent a truth still too hideous for an ideological hegemony to compute — that we built this nation on the backs of slaves.
“Nothing has ever denied of its contradictions” is a line uttered many times around this blog, and it is most often used to denounce a far-right accelerationism that thinks chaos alone can change the world. But we might look upon that statement a little more closely. Why is that the case, at least in their case? Because ideological systems of oppression generally tend to hide their contradictions. Far-right accelerationists thinking that, by committing acts of terror, they can help trigger a race war and set the contradictions lose demonstrates an ignorance as to their position in the social hierarchy.
For example, “Tfw no gf” is not a standpoint. The fury of incels and anons doesn’t hold much water because, in the grand scheme of things, no one is surprised when a white man mass-murderers a load of minorities. We’ve been watching that occur for centuries. That is the tactic that secured the system in which we live.
Because they fail to see this, they fail to see the system in its totality and so have no chance of changing it; they only see the superficial “immediacy” of their situation — with “immediacy” being Lukács’ term for that which is mistakenly and superficially given a privileged position within our self-consciousness because it is “given” to us most immediately in experience. (“Tfw no gf” becomes the perfect encapsulation of such a false standpoint since it precisely skewers that which the disenfranchised subject is immediately lacking: a girlfriend becomes the all-or-nothing focus over any more nuanced analysis of what Žižek called their “deadlock of desire”; you don’t hate your lack of a girlfriend, you hate your lack of a life under capitalism.)
Lukács, in his more explicit Hegelian-Marxism, makes a point in orbit of this that is useful for us if we hope to separate more clearly the contagious consciousness-raising of the Black Lives Matter movement from the contagious mindlessness of ideological thuggery. He writes that
the growing class consciousness that has been brought into being through the awareness of a common situation and common interests is by no means confined to the working class. The unique element in its situation is that its surpassing of immediacy represents an aspiration towards society in its totality regardless of whether this aspiration remains conscious or whether it remains unconscious for the moment. This is the reason why its logic does not permit it to remain stationary at a relatively higher stage of immediacy but forces it to persevere in an uninterrupted movement towards this totality, i.e. to persist in the dialectical process by which immediacies are constantly annulled and transcended. Marx recognised this aspect of proletarian class consciousness very early on. In his comments on the revolt of the Silesian weavers he lays emphasis on its “conscious and theoretical character.” He sees in the ‘Song of the Weavers’ a “bold battle cry which does not even mention the hearth, factory or district but in which the proletariat immediately proclaims its opposition to private property in a forceful, sharp, ruthless and violent manner.” Their action revealed their “superior nature” for “whereas every other movement turned initially only against the industrialist, the visible enemy, this one attacked also the hidden enemy, namely the banker.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, rising up (quite literally) from beneath the boot of white supremacist, capitalist and state oppression, sees the system for what it is in its totality. It attacks the statues in our streets because they are the unseen enemies of history’s persistent becoming. It, too, has a theoretical nature and a consciousness that, we hope, will persist. It punctures the crisis of the negative in this way, making for a moment of revolution that, whether explicitly or not, seems acutely Marxist in its nature.
The far-right, of course, attack whatever is in front of them — even if that’s the police that they are, supposedly, out in numbers to support. They are mired in immediacy and, in the process, they only illuminate the impotence of the very state they are attacking. They are the ying to Boris Johnson’s yang. BLM, on the other hand, is one step outside the circle and it is looking in, choosing targets wisely. That is how you accelerate a process — and that process is history.