21 September 2011

Summing it all up...

Response to “Apprehensions of the social”, part 4 of 4
By Chris Wright

We are after all confronted with a problem. The Enlightenment linked citizenship with humanity and such is the world we lived in. As a result, struggles to be treated as fully human tended to be struggles to be fully incorporated as citizens. (Workers, despite what the revolutionaries generally wanted, and in all but a few instances, and there usually under the least democratic conditions, generally wanted to extend their rights as human beings in this society.) And in turn the extension of citizenship to people without wealth increasingly created a pressure (exerted through social struggles and also at times as part of the rationalization of conditions of accumulation) to provide a minimum of life’s needs to every citizen, hence social welfare, public education, etc.

The workers’ movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, etc. have all sought to further merge citizen and bourgeois, but the split itself cannot be overcome in this society, only through its revolutionary overcoming.
Insofar as the crisis from 1917 to 1937 was resolved from 1923-1945 in the blood of war, fascism, and genocide, the move common to all fascism, and which every progressive political force had sought to overcome, to make citizenship a privilege of some against others even within the same state, has become the feature especially of the post-World War II Right and of neoliberalism in general.

What we lost with the death of socialism and the end of the New Left was the death of movements that conceived their goal as a universal humanity. In turn, in so many states there are now struggles to define who is really a citizen and who is not, and it is no accident that they take their cues politically in many ways from both the United States and the fascist regimes since in both cases there was an internal population of citizens who were never really considered true citizens. The systematic political tendency in this country, and arguably globally, is to take away who has full citizen rights, to take away the vote, to restrict freedom of assembly, to extend the citizen status of the corporation while restricting the citizenship of other groups. Even if the limits of these rights are evident to any Marxian thinker, at the same time the fact that the taking of them away is an attack should be evidently unclear. One might argue that this is a line drawn between Marxian and anarchist thought, whether or not politics are the form of appearance of social relation as necessary forms of appearance or as mere illusion.

Thus many people will give up their rights in order to remain within the collective, that is, to have the privilege to be exploited, to eat regularly, to have a car, to own a home, etc. This is partially because they do not see themselves as the beneficiaries of the programs being attacked; they literally subtract themselves from their own vision. They certainly don’t see themselves as workers. Given the structure of social spending in the US, that it is designed to appear as enhancing private wealth, whatever appears as a straight handout, no matter whom it helps, will be attacked by people caught in the material existence of suburbanism on the suburban side, instead of those caught on the sub-urban side.

In the absence of a vision of what could be done to change this, of how we could take control of our lives, those suffering identity panic will fall in with the collective they can fall in with and many others will in fact hope to be clients of the administrators or they will simply try to survive with no sense of entitlement. A friend of mine told me recently how sick he was of hearing that Black people felt entitled to social benefits; he cannot imagine a people who feels less entitled to any decency, much less handouts, from this society, and who are so prepared to fight tooth and nail for whatever they can get. I could not but agree.

And so to touch on a last idea: There is a difference between seeing society represented through The Nation or The State than through the market. The idea of the Nation and the State can both encompass citizen and bourgeois, can be the basis for their coming together, for a sense of collective purpose. The market, that is, naked civil society, provides absolutely no such means except the privatized administrative apparatus and the private, members-only collectivities. The public as such is annihilated. And this in the end is Rancière’s point: our struggle today is to revive the public, to push against privatizing initiative. Clearly, it was not enough to lean on the nation or the state against the market. Neoliberalism has across the board meant the elimination of that as an option anyway, as it is the politics of austerity by and through the state in favor of the market in the face of the long crisis.

To revive the public, to demand that that which has been made private, what the Tea Party and the Liberals want to delegitimize as fit for public attention, is exactly what we need to make public, make a problem of everyone, to deny exclusive rights to govern or decide to anyone - that seems to me to be our first task. This is the return of politics (Rancière’s democracy) in a way that is not the private domain of politicians and communitarians, a politics which is at play in the riots in England, the massive social protests that took place in Greece, the demonstrations in Wisconsin and the activity of workers (often beyond formal legal constraints) in the Verizon strike, albeit at a largely un-self-conscious level and thus with no sense per se that their struggles aren’t merely against Cameron and the cops or the EU and IMF or the Tea Party or Verizon. The awareness that the apple cart is not steady resides much more with the liberals and the trade unions, who are always more fearful of militancy to their left than to their right.

No comments:

Post a Comment