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Re: <nettime> Why I say the things I say
Brian Holmes on Sun, 6 May 2012 22:05:54 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Why I say the things I say


Hey Keith, good to hear from you.

On 05/06/2012 05:50 AM, Keith Hart wrote:

The first thing that stands out to me is that you identify your own
role with that of a critic. There are other ways of engaging society
and perhaps we should start with that. Which critics in history do
you think made a difference? Cicero? Milton? Rousseau? Poe? Adorno?
How did they do it?

I think there are tons of writers who have made a difference, and it
continues today. Your list is pretty literary - and literature is a
strong force, much stronger than people usually give credit. I'm also
interested in more humble sociologists, economists, philosophers,
and of course... art historians. But you know, critic is just one
part. I like to be part of social movements and also experimental
art-and-politics groups that come to grips with territorial realities.
There are few Adornos and less Poes. Baudelaire and Rimbaud are pretty
rare too! No use wishing to be a world-historical genius. How to be
part of a grounded community that lives its critique and breathes its
alternatives? It's a very good question. That's why a bunch of us go
around asking it in the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor!

the American left, from its strongholds in New York, Chicago and
LA, rarely identifies other social forces that might help to make
things budge, choosing rather to demonize the popular majority,
their culture and politics, as dupes.

What the left is, and what the popular majority is, is a real question
in the US (but also France or Germany for that matter). Dan Wang
shows in his last post that a broad electoral left has come into
existence again through conflict in Wisconsin. That could be a growing
tendency nationally, but it isn't yet. In Chicago I still see a
big split between a popular, grassroots left that comes out for a
primarily Latino immigrant march like Mayday (and for a thousand other
everyday causes) and a middle-class liberal left that frankly doesn't
know what to do in the face of a police-state, finance-friendly,
austerity-enforcing Democrat like Rahm Emmanuel (former Obama chief of
staff and now our mayor). Who's the popular majority? There isn't one,
there's two or three or more. It's as useless to call people dupes as
it is to deny the use of vast machineries for influencing behavior.
Proof enough of the latter is the success of the "Kochtopus" -- ie
the huge multi-headed apparatus that the famous two brothers help to
fund, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) whose
program Scott Walker has tried to carry out in Wisconsin.

Third, all economies combine plural principles and, when the
Pentagon is the largest state-run collective in world history, we
should think twice before describing the US economy as "capitalism".
Ours is an age of money (Locke and Marx) which is transitional to a
more just society, but where is the world in that trajectory today,
when for the first time capital has gone geneuinely global?

Keith, you are more confident than I that capitalism's mission has
been to bring cheap commodities to the masses. We're looking arguably
at some kind of transnational state capitalism, in which the state
itself warps beyond recognition. If the crisis of the 70s produced a
trilateral governance ("Triad power" as Kenichai Ohmae said back then)
we now see an attempt to widen the hegemony (or stretch the management
of "hege-money") to include the BRICS. The locus of this attempt
has been the G-20 finance ministers meeting. But the hedge funds
aren't really cooperating. Moishe Postone has pointed out that under
neoliberalism, the classic inability of capitalists to coordinate
their efforts globally has returned to plague the whole system. And he
said that before 2008 and the Greek debacle! Postone argues for some
specific consideration of the greatest critic of Lockean bourgeois
property conceptions. I.e. Marx. As a critic I still want to be part
of a collective rewriting of Marx for the 21st century. In my view,
transnational state capitalism is still failing to deliver the goods
we need.

Fourth, the Europeans are in worse shape than the Americans and
nowhere more depressed than in Britain and France, the empires the
US had to displace in order to build their own. If your constituency
is the West in decline, why would you expect to locate progressive
social forces from populations who live beyond their means because
they have the world currency and most of the weapons or another that
shelters behind that power to derive unearned income from the rest
that is fast running out?

Pretty darn good question! I just happen to live here in the
"Heartland." Where a buncha climate-change deniers, the Heartland
Institute, are meeting, hopefully to general scorn, this weekend.

Finally, but not really, this is just the beginning, the political
economists identified three classes based on property in Land, Money
and Labour, landlords, capitalists and workers. What has happened to
those classes by the early 21st century?

Well, they have become intertwined for better and worse, I'd say.
Crucially, the formation of socialist and social-democratic states
in the 20th century has confused the working classes with both
the territorial nation-state and the money-wielding transnational
corporations. For us, the big alternative is, do we fight back to
regain power over monetary flows within some territorial container
called a nation-state? Or do we go for Exodus and try to create a
new formation, "the missing people" or "le people qui manque," as
Deleuze and Guattari put it? I think you have to do both at once. The
corporate-state nexus is too powerful and ugly to ignore, and we can't
yet fight it effectively outside the nation-state. At the same time,
the national culture it has produced -- with workers' cooperation
-- is too deadly to make it one's own. Is it really possible to do
both at once? Not for nothing did D&G write about capitalism and
schizophrenia!

Whatever the way forward from your impasse, brian, it has to be
grounded in a contemporary perspective on world history and not just
the internal whingeing of western populations condemned already
to the dustbin of history. I don't expect this idea to take root
soon. After all, the British haven't woken up to historical reality
despite being on the skids for a century. I have made my second home
in South Africa and I look especially to Brazil and India rather
than China, as well as to the rest of Africa, for progressive social
movements. Africa laready has 7 out of the top ten fastest-growing
economies; its share of would population will be a quarter in 2050
and over a third by 2100. Now there is a revolution to contemplate
in our racist world society, one where the value of black, brown and
white will be reversed.

So you go for Exodus!

Here in the Americas, there is infinitely more to be learned from the
South than the North. With all due apologies to my good friends in
Canada. Y muchos saludos a los demas!

Thanks for the inspiration, amigo.

Brian






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