[D-G] "politics of the left", and capitalism

Jeremy Livingston jeremy.livingston at gmail.com
Mon Feb 21 13:38:02 PST 2005

I gotta preface this by admitting, I am of the post-'68 generation (my
mother was eight years old then). Also I'm sorry this is so long; I
just got started and didn't want to stop until I was done.

Be that as it may, I have two things I want to say here. First, Sid
began by suggesting: "For a poilitics of the left to not only continue
to exist ... but became viable once again it seems that we should
re-think the conditions that we find ourselves within today...." I
think this is the wrong foot to set off on. The question should not be
"How can a politics of the left be viable?" but rather, "What will a
politics of desire look like?" D&G's politics isn't "a politics of the
left" first and foremost. Rather, theirs is a politics of desire,
which is consequently a politics of the left when all is said and
done. That is to say: A politics of desire is a politics of the left,
but a politics of the left is not necessarily a politics of desire. We
owe it to D&G, but more importantly to ourselves, to explore what it
will mean to have a politics of desire.

No wishy-washing this: A 'politics of desire' is one that is validated
by joy, fun, adventure, pleasure, indulgence, sexuality. It aims for a
World of Delight (rated R for mature themes and coarse language).
Everything must follow from this, including its "leftism"; nothing can
be assumed. Deleuze, in the Abecedaire interview, defined "the Left"
as an attitude, a cosmopolitan attitude of respect even for those most
distant from your current affairs; and this is why we can say a
politics of desire is "on the left". But this doesn't limit us to any
specific program, right? Who knows how far away from traditional
socialism our desire might take us!

Second, Sid asked: "Can we not understand Capital today, at the
beginning of the 21st century, as already opperating on a level of
non-identity/a-signification?" But that was, I think, part of D&G's
point when they insisted that Capitalism, in contrast with every other
mode of social organization in history, is characterized by flow. Or
at least, the market economy; this has always worked by non-identity
and by a-signification. What is at issue is the axiomatic it still
tries to adhere to. This is the most challenging thing, I think, about
D&G's politics, but in order to understand it we have to say what
Capitalism is and what it isn't.

It's important to consider what is horrifying about Capitalism, and
what is bad about it. These are two different things, for D&G. What is
horrifying about it, and what has always been the source of fear that
is felt towards the market economy by primitive peoples and by
old-school Communists (who, since Engels, have always been
primitivists at heart) is that it isn't governed by codes. Primitive
societies are extremely conservative with respect to their codes, and
the market economy destroys that and unleashes uncontrollable forces
across the globe: flows of capital, of migrant labor, of electricity,
of information, credit, maybe also pollution....

Frankly this prospect scares the shit out of everybody. Not just
because it is confusing, but because it makes social control
impossible. It is something more befitting the experience of a black
magician than a man of convention (hence "memoirs of a sorcerer").
Capitalism is Satanic. This is what D&G revel in. This makes the
market economy something sublime.

What is horrifying about Capitalism is what is good about it. What is
bad about it is people are still too timid for it. The bounty of the
market economy is made possible by its flows. Flows are made when
codes break down, but historically this has happened within the
context of established State power. States traditionally over-coded
the flows, damming them up; but as the codes broke down, they needed a
new strategy to siphon from it. So they developed the axiomatic, which
is like a code for the changes of codes. The purpose of the axiomatic
is to try to contrive the direction of flows, rather than letting them
flow (because oh the horror that would follow from that!). Hence the
invention of Capitalism proper -- which is an attitude, a way of
relating to one another that privileges "The Economy" and its
(contrived) flows rather than seeing what happens when the flows
determine themselves. (The Enclosure Acts are one example of State
action that is meant to support "The Economy", when the economy was in
no need of support.)

So D&G's problem is not that Capitalism is rooted in the problem of
identity and signification. Rather, it's a lame and awkward hybrid.
This is what creates the clinical schizophrenic: We are put in touch
with flows by our intersections with machines, with cash and credit
circulation, with electricity -- but then these flows crush us against
the dykewalls of morbid and superficial preconceptions about how
things are "supposed" to happen. These preconceptions manifest in
everything from social convention to bureaucracy. Remember their
conclusion in "Anti-Oedipus": The solution is not to retreat to a
romantic fantasy of simple encoding based on some myth of the original
society (as in traditional Communism); rather, the solution is to
one-up Capitalism, to push it past its own limits, to break the dams.
And this is the challenge. How many of us have the balls to destroy
the axiomatic in the name of desire?

Well anyway, now I think I'm more talking for the sake of my own
voice. Sorry for flooding folks' boxes. Also, thank you Chris and Sid
for your comments on my "fascism" breakdown, but maybe I came in too
late with it or it was too much.

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