July 26, 2010

Too Anarchist, or Not Too Anarchist?

This is an old post (Nov 2009) of mine from a different blog, but I like the passage so much I thought I would share it again. It was pretty popular with at least one reader. (I added some schnazzy pics to spice it up.)

In my current theoretical space, I am a Badiouian (and for some reason this particular adjectival form makes me smile each time I say, er, type it). As such, I ought to be open, in some sense, to the idea of “spontaneous self-organization”, which is the preferred form of organization by many in the left today. This organizational method or practice is overtly anarchistic and seems to be the main alternative to the old ideas about grassroots organizing, building committees of resistance that intervene locally but share an ideology and sense of purpose with other local bodies, eventually linking up or coming together under one party banner – a unified front – to take their interventions to the big stage, and so on.

I suggest that I ought to find this idea of spontaneous self-organization appealing, since, for Badiou, and according to my modified Badiouian political framework, politics is inaugurated in an aleatory event. We cannot predict or force an event, so, in some sense, we organize in and through our becoming subject to the new procedure of truth. Our coming together into a collective subjectivity in response to an unpredictable event sounds a lot like spontaneous self-organization. Our fidelity compels us to materially trace out the consequences of our commitment, that is, in the good old-fashioned Marxist, (Hegelian even) sense of getting your hands dirty and changing the world according to your will – or in this case, according to the truth you’ve wagered on. This seems like something that those who favor the idea of spontaneous self-organization would like: become political when you are struck by something important that calls for engagement. Engage in ways that make sense to you, indifferent to there being a movement or front. The picture all kind of comes together.

Why then do I not find this idea about organization appealing? Well, I just don’t see it as something I can have confidence in. It seems to me that global capitalism, or whatever name we might give to “the system”, is going to have to change. For many reasons – take your pick – the system will be forced to transform radically. This is somewhat contentious; but, taking it for granted, we have the choice to let forces other than our own efforts steer the change, or we can change it according to our will. Perhaps this is my call to action or something.

If you experience, morally, existentially, or otherwise, the imperative to act in the face of this supposed change, then you need ask yourself: can I rely upon spontaneous self-organization of the left to steer the transformation? I’d not bet on it. It seems to me a matter of confidence that the left work hard to find ways of organizing that allow some measure of control, and that allows political actors to gauge the discontent of the masses, the effects of disaster ideologies on people – that is, how effective are the enemies at hijacking public opinion? (and how effective are we at it for that matter?) – and an organization that allows strong and strategic intervention. Of course, if individuals or groups spontaneously act in solidarity with the organized movement or front, then all the better, it just seems to me that the masses will need a sympathetic nudge.

I suppose the point, in a round about way, is that confidence plays an important role in the evaluation of political theories, and I have more confidence in something like Lenin’s vanguardism than the many versions of anarchism circulating today. Works like The Coming Insurrection, by the Invisible Committee, just don’t inspire confidence (although I welcome suggestions about other anarchisms that might do so).

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