Thanks again to Islam al-Khatib, who has become such an important person on my timeline for all that she shares on this current crisis in Palestine. It is, once again, to her that I must defer.
Islam has been posting a lot recently about a general strike in support of Palestine, taking place for many tomorrow. It reminded me of that excellent k-punk post on Live 8 — the sycophantic spectacle from what feels like another universe where some people really thought world leaders would stop the madness if we enjoyed ourselves enough.
In the post’s title Mark wonders, what if we held a protest and everyone came? He was fascinated by the idea of a “general strike”, but also the ways that such an idea had been hollowed out by neoliberalism’s “libidinal fallacies”. 2005’s Live 8 concert was the perfect example. That it was so pleasurable for post-90s neolib brain — a sanitised rave showcase of new century mediocrity — made it doomed to fail from the start. This was not because revolution cannot be built on collective joy, but when that joy is aimed directly at capturing the attention of the very libidinal system it was supposed to denounce, like the hippies at their most inane, what is produced is little more than a cheery passivity. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution is not be born out of cultural sycophancy. Live 8 undid much of the work done by cultural figures in the 1970s, who made the youth of the day “intensely suspicious both of ‘happiness’ as an emotional state and of those who proffer it as a libidinal-political goal.” That Live 8’s stint in Philadelphia was opened by the Kaiser Chiefs singing “I Predict a Riot” — less a song about revolution than the Otley Run — says it all. Happiness was back on the menu, and it was less a warm gun than a warm pissed-in bed after a big leery sesh.
Still, the idea of a general strike for Palestine really resonates with this post, if only because Palestine reannounces the stake that Live 8 forgot. It is also interesting because the idea of what a successful strike might look like can be paradoxically intoxicating, and because it works as a provocative thought experiment elucidating the abstract obstacles that have so far stopped Palestine receiving justice and stopped Israel from ending its apartheid. Viewed through this libidinal framework, blind faith in Israel and the impunity is enjoys is detached from Zionist ideology, the Jewish faith and the nation-state’s “right to exist”. Instead, Israel starts to embody capitalist realism at its most fundamental. But this is also part of the problem with addressing Israel’s crimes against humanity and our belief that world leaders will solve it all with sanctions and resolutions. Such was the problem with Live 8. When we ask our world leaders to intervene and put a stop to Israel’s atrocities, just as we plead with them to end inequality or climate change once and for all, we are effectively asking them to intervene in the very ideological structure of capitalism itself. In that regard, the problem is bigger than them, and so it starts to necessarily implicate us.
What is being disavowed in the abjection of evil and ignorance onto fantasmatic Others is our own complicity in planetary networks of oppression. What needs to be kept in mind is BOTH that capitalism is a hyper-abstract impersonal structure AND that it would be nothing without our co-operation. As I will never tire of insisting, the most Gothic description of Capital is also the most literal. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labour is ours, and the zombies it makes are us. Determinists of both a neo-liberal and anti-humanist bent … merely echo teleo-Marxism at its most eschatological when they insist that … the meat (or human) components of the Capital machine are of no consequence since the total triumph of Capital is historically Inevitable.
Recently, I tried to write a bit about the ways in which modern Zionism and liberalism are so entwined for so many, albeit seemingly obliviously, and that seems clear when we consider Israel not as an outlier but as the most egregious example of settler-colonialism in the modern world. Israel is built on teleo-Zionism, transforming the world’s oldest religion into an all too linear postmodern disaster. Indeed, its linearity is an illusion. It knows not how ingrown it has become, implicated in the very forces of oppression it was founded against. This is so often reduced to equivalences between Israeli and Nazi persecution but such a comparison is offensively reductive. The point is that both are products of the same overarching network of oppression: capitalism. It is a system, like the state of Israel itself, that is, as Mark points out, driven by a grotesque determinism that has fuelled settler-colonialism around the world for centuries.
With thanks to Alexander Boyd, this is a point made by Gilles Deleuze (previously discussed) in his 1982 analysis of the situation, published in the collection Two Regimes of Madness, under the title “The Indians of Palestine”:
There are indeed two distinct movements in capitalism. In the first, a people is maintained on its land and made to work, exploited to accumulate a surplus. This is what we usually mean by “colony.” But in the second, a territory is emptied of its people. Capitalism thus makes a giant leap in a single bound, even if that means importing workers and manual labour. The history of Zionism, the history of Israel, and the history of the United States have all gone that route: how does one create a vacuum, how does one empty out a territory?
It seems that the best way is to transform that territory into a vacuum, at least in the mind of the people colonising it, is to first transform it into an objet petit a — a libidinal signifier for the imaginary to gorge itself on. This is to say that the idea of Israel is, ultimately, unattainable — and necessarily so. A virgin land for the Jewish people to prosper within is a libidinal fallacy and impossible to achieve, because there will always be a world already there. There will always be something left to empty out. Such is the issue for the Palestinian people. They are an inconvenience in the face of their otherwise pure and righteous project. Faith in that project, that dream, is powerful, precisely because it is libidinal. This is why Americans brought God within them to the new world. In much the same way that America found itself (and continues to find itself) exempt from calling its actions atrocities because they were carried out in (supposedly) good “faith”, so Israel is powerful because its determinism is based on faith also. But there are multiple forms of faith entangled in its mechanisms, as is the case within capitalism as a whole. As such, it is more the case that capitalism needs faith to function, rather than we need faith in the system in order to function for ourselves. The same is as true for Israel and its people as it is for capitalism and the people it exploits — if only they could see it.
The question of what Capital wants from us requires answers at a number of levels: economic, psychoanalytic, and perhaps most pressingly, theological. In any case, it is clear that, for the moment at least, Capital cannot get along without us. It remains the case, however, that we can get along without it. The parasite needs its ‘mere conscious linkages’ but we do not need the parasite. In addition to anything else, to ignore the crucial functioning of the meat in the machine is poor cybernetics. The denial of human agency is an SF fantasy, albeit one that is everywhere realising itself.
But to reclaim that agency means first of all accepting our insertion at the level of desire in the remorseless meat-grinder of Capital. Capital is not something imposed upon us by Bush; it is we who are hooked on the ‘garbage in honey’s sack’, unable to kick the habit of returning to the Big Jesus Trashcan for another hit of feel-good junk.
As a political project, Israel needs Jews to function, but the Jewish people do not “need” Israel. To equate the two is to embody that Lockean liberal mantra of “I own therefore I am”. Ownership feels good. Possession is nice. We all like owning things. But to own land, and to define yourself through that ownership, is the very basis of capitalist accumulation. Israel is, then, little more than capitalism at its most parasitic, and the parasite is on steroids. This only complicates things further, but it shows in rapid irreal time how capital can escalate its own war machinery.
It is no coincidence that Israel, as a militarised state, has science-fictional defenses. It’s utterly intensive embodiment of capitalist forces has allowed it to steam ahead as a military power in the region — with a little (read: a lot of) help from its Western allies. Of course, just like the war machine of Deleuze and Guattari, Israel’s primary purpose is not to wage war, but to evade persecution. Israel holds firmly onto that narrative, despite the fact its war machine has been utterly captured — a point previously made by @_diagnosticism_. As such, Israel is not a line of flight but a new sedentary power that brutalises others by forcing them to flee like it once did. It forces the Palestinian people to act. It forces them either to fight or towards flight. It forces them to face up to their own agency (or lack thereof) because their lives depend on it. But flee they must, and so must we flee in solidarity, if only so that Israel might follow suit.
To ask the Israeli people to flee from their own narrative, to unplug themselves from the outwardly oppressive network of feel-good mythologizing that defines their very existence, is obviously counter-intuitive. But it is essential if they are to rescue themselves from becoming that which they say they have fled for millennia.
Withdrawal from the Capital Matrix entails an unplugging that will seem painful to nervous systems commensurated to the Reality-Pleasure Principle. Partly it means giving up the reassuring comforter of the Bad Father Figure and facing the fact that the G8 leaders are not capable of legislating away all planetary misery, but are ‘old men at the crossroads’, Capital’s meat puppets not its masters. There is a sense in which it simply is the case that the political elite are our servants; the miserable service they provide from us is to launder our libidos, to obligingly re-present for us our disavowed desires as if they had nothing to do with us.
The point has been made more than once that this conflict is well-timed for Netanyahu, occurring on the eve of an election he was projected to do very badly in. Nothing wins elections like a quick, genocidal libido-laundering.
If anyone is in charge in Kapital it is Oedipus Rex, i.e. us. (‘I yam the King!’ as Cave caterwauled on ‘Junkyard’. Yes: the junkie as monarch, that’s capitalist sovereignty.) The political ‘reality’ that Bush and the others will no doubt blame their failure to act upon is not just an ideological smokescreen. It is the reality constituted by the desires of that selfsame Live 8 crowd who, when push comes to shove, will not pay extra taxes, will not give up cheap flights or car use, will not make a stand against inequity and stupidity at work if it means compromising their interests and those of their famileeeee and yet who expect global crises to be magically solved by 8 stooges in a room.
A general strike leads by example. Don’t plead with leaders for change whilst servicing the state-us quo, either through apolitical commerce or polite passivity. But don’t do it for the sake of self-satisfying moral purity either. Boycott and abandon and strike not because it feels good but because it feels bad and is fraught and is complex. Unplug from the libidinal (liberal) fallacy that makes complicity easy for everyone. That is what is required of Israel. The Jewish people, so often bouyed and battered without a home, must surely be elated to have a state of their own, that gives them a new sense of ground in an uprooted history. But just as Fred Moten challenged the inherent violence of what we call “home”, so must Israel reckon with the broader implications of its domesticity. It feels good to have a home, but that enjoyment excuses what so many others experience as terror and violence. And so, to insist that the state of Israel unplugs from its own ultranationalist sugar high is to insist it unplugs from the wider ideological system their success as a nation-state serves — the system Mark called “capitalist realism”.
“You first”, it sneers.
Alright then. For Palestine.