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<nettime> Re: rejoinder: is a radical project identity achievable?
Brian Holmes on Wed, 2 Aug 2006 09:52:06 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Re: rejoinder: is a radical project identity achievable?


Alex Foti writes:

"In Castellsian terms (tell me Felix if I got it right), 
bushist occidentalism is a legitimizing identity and 
shia/sunni fundamentalism is a resistance identity. Castells 
contrasts these two forms of social identity (for him, 
networks and identities are all there is on the globe) with 
progressive and transformational project identities, such as 
feminism and environemntalism.

"My point then is this: what kind of project identity would 
be needed to stave off this double threat to the basic 
welfare of humankind? And even harder but more crucial, can 
the inheritors of the Seattle-Gothenburg-Genoa movement, as 
well as other radical and progressive forces, achieve it?"

Alex, you're one of the people who make a difference, and I 
agree, your question is the right one. Plus you introduce it 
by reference to my text on Network, Swarm, Microstructure, 
so it's the perfect chance to respond to the rejoinder. 
Originally I was gonna rework that text for the Dictionary 
of War. But the urgency of the present required something 
different.

The text on global microstructures raised what's almost a 
"technical issue," something precise and particular. It 
focused on the disruptive power of four very different 
self-organizing groups, all outside of institutional 
control: financial speculators; Al Qaeda; open-source 
hackers; anti-globalization movements. Each of these 
communicates through specific technical networks, but also 
operates within an overarching cultural horizon of shared 
values and images. The point was that each in its own way 
has driven the globalization process forward in a kind of 
wild rush. But what used to be the anti-globalization 
movement in Europe, North America, Australia and such places 
is obviously not doing that anymore. Your interest in all 
these ideas might have been piqued when I included the 
Euromayday networks as a disruptive microstructure. And I 
think you saw something naive, utopian or angelic in 
Lazzarato's vision of the activist ("she creates a 
bifurcation in the flow of words, of desires, of images, to 
put them at the service of the multiplicity's power of 
articulation").

The activist question is always what to do, how to achieve a 
better world? The part of that question that I'm working on 
is: What kind of culture, what kind of shared horizon can 
help us get there?

What I think is that the mystique of disruption and the 
utopia of self-organization are not enough. To fixate on 
that is backward-looking, I agree. The problem is that these 
aspects fit too smoothly into the bubble economy of the 
nineties, what I called capitalist "deterritorialization" in 
the microstructure text, and what I tried to define much 
more precisely as the "breadth phase" of fusions and 
acquisitions, in my recent text on Peace-for-War. The thing 
that Guattari saw so clearly is that capitalism's great 
waves of de-territorializing expansionism are always 
accompanied by regressive re-territorialization, i.e. 
nationalism, fundamentalism, or what you call "bushism" and 
"occidentalism" in the case of the Nato countries. In my 
more recent text I wanted to identify the hard core of 
occidentalism, namely the oil companies, weapons dealers, 
engineering corps like halliburton. The point is that this 
kind of regressive nationalistic corporate militarism is the 
reflex of the whole capitalist system, whenever boom goes 
bust. And there are deep structural interests that make such 
a reflex possible, even encourage it, press for it, realize it.

The current war shows the impossibility of just thinking 
European. What's happened is that a whole new productive 
system has been installed, at a world scale, over the years 
of expansionism from the mid-80s to 2000. Now the struggle 
is on to see how this new system can be institutionally 
regulated - culturally, economically, politically, 
militarily. It's comparable, but not the same as what 
happened after the Fordist invention of production lines for 
automobiles: you had the expansionism of the 1920s, a 
depression in the 30s and then war in the 40s to decide who 
was going to be able to frame the institutions. But now the 
US, which was halfway enlightened or at least had some kind 
of twisted generosity in the postwar period, has become 
almost a despot, probably because of its status as a pure 
rentier society, dependent on Chinese and other labor for 
its wealth, with financial and military power its only 
specialties. Is the worst side of this declining power going 
to create the institutions for the productivity of a new 
world society? Or worse yet, is that society going to just 
immediately fall apart into extended war? Things are going 
so fast, it's no wonder people are confused, me too in fact!

As for the movements you mention, I think we're stuck with 
being an active minority in these world networks: we have to 
experiment with the real-time sharing of words, images, 
forms, gestures, actions and insurgencies, all those things 
that are described so imperfectly by the image of a swarm. 
But the out-of-control imagery of the 90s isn't something to 
live for, and the multitude isn't gonna happen by accident 
either. If we want to build on the first big experiment of 
the Seattle-Gothenburg-Genoa days, if we want to go beyond 
the backward-looking Third-Worldism of the Social Forums 
without giving up any solidarity with the South and with all 
oppressed and impoverished people, we have to give the 
microstructures of resistance much more coherence, by 
building a sky above, a horizon of shared analyses and 
orientations (not to say values: I mean orientations, 
directions, possibles). We can't just be opportunistic and 
hope to hitchhike with what might again appear as the gains 
of the new productive system, gains for those within the 
privileged countries of the western core. We have to really 
cooperate on solid critical understandings of how 
technoscience is being deployed in the world and the damage 
it's doing, and we have to maintain that critical awareness 
along with more forward-looking visions, so that our 
multicultural, multisexual expressions and our organizing 
strategies don't just get seduced into participation in the 
business cycle again, if another breadth phase comes in the 
next few years. Good times for flexworkers is never gonna be 
enough. What climate change and peak oil and Bush and 
Israel's war on Lebanon are showing us is how unbelievably 
dangerous this phase of setting up the new global 
institutions really is, how much disaster it could end in.

You say, pink, green and wobbly in Europe, and I say, yes, 
that's it, but let's not be afraid of the philosophy and 
dialogism of human potentials, the science and the 
cosmopolitics of ecological balance, the strategy and 
technique of organizing industrial development in the world. 
I've been participating in the Euromayday movements as much 
as I can, I'm OK with the pop style of organizing, but I 
think if we want a real project identity, a deep intense and 
open microcosmic horizon for networked movements that can 
actually influence the institutional changes, then we have 
to make sure that the images and slogans don't lead back to 
the faked desire of the consumer markets and the dream 
factories of daily life - or back to the revolutionary 
fantasies of agitators who get left behind by reality. A 
political culture that can resolve serious differences 
between dissenting groups, and can draw plans for using and 
governing the productive forces that make and shake the 
earthscape, is what the post-68 left never developed and we 
need it badly, man. Not the endless Marxism of 1917 and the 
appeal to "industrial working classes" that have been bought 
off and normalized into reactionary submission long ago. Nor 
the lazy critique of "the West" as a metaphysical absolute, 
and more lip-service for whatever revolt that appears 
outside, no matter how fanatical. Instead, the capacity to 
provoke and win confrontations over the new labor issues, 
while conceiving and debating the strategic place of those 
conflicts within global ecological and anti-imperialist 
struggles, always remixed through the transforming filter of 
sexual and cultural potentials that don't just become the 
assertions of someone's ego. A project identity, OK, but the 
word is so poor, such a suffocating horizon for a human 
being. I think we're talking about something to live for, 
and the ways to get it too. The exact science of our unbound 
dreams is what governments should be afraid of.

best, Brian




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