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nettime: D/G - Capitalism: A Very Special Delirium (1/2)

Capitalism: A Very Special Delirium

an interview with 
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

in: "Chaosophy", ed. Sylvere Lothringer, Autonomedia/Semiotexte 1995
with permission by the publishers

        ACTUEL: When you describe capitalism, you say: "There isn't the
slightest operation, the slightest industrial or financial mechanism that
does not reveal the dementia of the capitalist machine and the pathological
character of its rationality (not at all a false rationality, but a true
rationality of *this* pathology, of *this madness*, for the machine does
work, be sure of it). There is no danger of this machine going mad, it has
been mad from the beginning and that's where its rationality comes from.
Does this mean that after this "abnormal" society, or outside of it, there
can be a "normal" society?

        GILLES DELEUZE: We do not use the terms "normal" or "abnormal". All
societies are rational and irrational at the same time. They are perforce
rational in their mechanisms, their cogs and wheels, their connecting
systems, and even by the place they assign to the irrational. Yet all this
presuposes codes or axioms which are not the products of chance, but which
are not intrinsically rational either. It's like theology: everything about
it is rational if you accept sin, immaculate conception, incarnation. Reason
is always a region cut out of the irrational -- not sheltered from the
irrational at all, but a region traveresed by the irrational and defined
only by a certain type of relation between irrational factors. Underneath
all reason lies delirium, drift. Everything is rational in capitalism,
except capital or capitalism itself. The stock market is certainly rational;
one can understand it, study it, the capitalists know how to use it, and yet
it is completely delirious, it's mad. It is in this sense that we say: the
rational is always the rationality of an irrational. Something that hasn't
been adequately discussed about Marx's *Capital* is the extent to which he
is fascinated by capitalists mechanisms, precisely because the system is
demented, yet works very well at the same time. So what is rational in a
society? It is -- the interests being defined in the framework of this
society -- the way people pursue those interests, their realisation. But
down below, there are desires, investments of desire that cannot be confused
with the investments of interest, and on which interests depend in their
determination and distribution: an enormous flux, all kinds of
libidinal-unconscious flows that make up the delirium of this society. The
true story is the history of desire. A capitalist, or today's technocrat,
does not desire in the same way as a slave merchant or official of the
ancient Chinese empire would. That people in a society desire repression,
both for others and *for themselves*, that there are always people who want
to bug others and who have the opportunity to do so, the "right" to do so,
it is this that reveals the problem of a deep link between libidinal desire
and the social domain. A "disinterested" love for the oppressive machine:
Nietzsche said some beautiful things about this permanent triumph of slaves,
on how the embittered, the depressed and the weak, impose their mode of life
upon us all. 

        Q: So what is specific to capitalism in all this?

        GD: Are delirium and interest, or rather desire and reason,
distributed in a completely new, particularly "abnormal" way in capitalism?
I believe so. Capital, or money, is at such a level of insanity that
psychiatry has but one clinical equivalent: the terminal stage. It is too
complicated to describe here, but one detail should be mentioned. In other
societies, there is exploitation, there are also scandals and secrets, but
that is part of the "code", there are even explicitly secret codes. With
capitalism, it is very different: nothing is secret, at least in principle
and according to the code (this is why capitalism is "democratic" and can
"publicize" itself, even in a juridical sense). And yet nothing is
admissable. Legality itself is inadmissable. By contrast to other societies,
it is a regime born of the public *and* the admissable. A very special
delirium inherent to the regime of money. Take what are called scandals
today: newspapers talk a lot about them, some people pretend to defend
themselves, others go on the attack, yet it would be hard to find anything
illegal in terms of the capitalist regime. The prime minister's tax returns,
real estate deals, pressure groups, and more generally the economical and
financial mechanisms of capital -- in sum, everything is legal, except for
little blunders, what is more, everything is public, yet nothing is
admissable. If the left was "reasonable," it would content itself with
vulgarizing economic and financial mechanisms. There's no need to publicize
what is private, just make sure that what is already public is beeing
admitted publicly. One would find oneself in a state of dementia without
equivalent in the hospitals.
Instead, one talks of "ideology". But ideology has no importance whatsoever:
what matters is not ideology, not even the "economico-ideological"
distinction or opposition, but the *organisation of power*. Because
organization of power-- that is, the manner in which desire is already in
the economic, in which libido invests the economic -- haunts the exonomic
and nourishes political forms of repression.

        Q: So is ideology a trompe l'oeil?

        GD: Not at all. To say "ideology is a trompe l'oeil, " that's still
the traditional thesis. One puts the infrastructure on one side-- the
economic, the serious-- and on the other, the superstructure, of which
ideology is a part, thus rejecting the phenomena of desire in ideology. It's
a perfect way to ignore how desire works within the infrastructure, how it
invests in it, how it takes part in it, how, in this respect, it organizes
power and the repressive system. We do not say: ideology is a trompe l'oeil
(or a concept that refers to certain illusions) We say: there is no
ideology, it is an illusion. That's why it suits orthodox Marxism and the
Communist Party so well. Marxism has put so much emphasis on the theme of
ideology to better conceal what was happening in the USSR: a new
organization of repressive power. There is no ideology, there are only
organizations of power once it is admitted that the organization of power is
the unity of desire and the economic infrastructure. Take two examples.
Education: in May 1968 the leftists lost a lot of time insisting that
professors engage in public self-criticism as agents of bourgeois ideology.
IT's stupid, and simply fuels the masochistic impulses of academics. The
struggle against the competitive examination was abandoned for the benefit
of the controversy, or the great anti-ideological public confession. In the
meantime, the more conservative professors had no difficulty reorganizing
their power. The problem of education is not an ideological problem, but a
problem of the organization of power: it is the specificity of educational
power that makes it appear to be an ideology, but it's pure illusion. Power
in the primary schools, that means something, it affects all children.
Second example: Christianity. The church is perfectly pleased to be treated
as an ideology. This can be argued; it feeds ecumenism. But Christianity has
never been an ideology; it's a very specific organization of power that has
assumed diverse forms since the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, and which
was able to invent the idea of international power. It's far more important
than ideology. 

        FELIX GUATTARI: It's the same thing in traditional political
structures. One finds the old trick being played everywhere again and again:
a big ideological debate in the general assembly and questions of
organization reserved for special commissions. These questions appear
secondary, determinded by political options. While on the contrary, the real
problems are those of organization, never specified or rationalized, but
projected afterwards in ideological terms. There the real divisions show up:
a treatment of desire and power, of investments, of group Oedipus, of group
"superegos", of perverse phenomena, etc. And then political oppositions are
bilt up: the individual takes such a position against another one, because
in the scheme of organization of power, he has already chosen and hates his

        Q: Your analysis is convincing in the case of the Soviet Union and
of capitalism. But in the particulars? If all ideological oppositions mask,
by definition, the conflicts of desire, how would you analyze, for example,
the divergences of three Trotskyite groupuscules? Of what conflict of desire
can this be the result? Despite the political quarrels, each group seems to
fulfill the same function vis-a-vis its militants: a reassuring hierarchy,
the reconstitution of a small social milieu, a final explanation of the
world.... I dont't see the difference.

        FG: Because any resemblance to existing groups is merely fortuitous,
one can well imagine one of these groups defining itself first by its
fidelity to hardened positions of the communist left after the creation of
the Third International. It's a whole axiomatics, down to the phonological
level -- the way of articulating certain words, the gesture that accompanies
them -- and then the structures of organization, the conception of what sort
of relationships to maintain with the allies, the centrists, the
adversaries.... This may correspond to a certain figure of Oedipalization, a
reassuring, intangible universe like that of the obsessive who loses his
sense of security if one shifts the position of a single, familar object.
It's a question of reaching, through this kind of identification with
recurrent figures and images, a certain type of efficiency that
characterized Stalinism--except for its ideology, prescisely. In other
respects, one keeps the general framework of the method, but adapts oneself
to it very carefully: "The enemy is the same, comrades, but the conditions
have changed." Then one has a more open groupuscule. It's a compromise: one
has crossed out the first image, whilst maintaining it, and injected other
notions. One multiplies meetings and training sessions, but also the
external interventions. For the desiring will, there is --- as Zazie says--
a certain way of bugging students and militants, among others.
        In the final analysis, all these groupuscules say basically the same
thing. But they are radically opposed in their *style*: the definition of
the leader, of propaganda, a conception of discipline, loyality, modesty,
and the asceticism of the militant. How does one account for these
polarities without rummaging in the economy of desire of the social machine?
>From anarchists to Maoists the spread is very wide, politically as much as
analytically. Without even considering the mass of people, outside the
limited range of the groupuscules, who do not quite know how to distinguish
between the leftist elan, the appeal of union action, revolt, hesitation of
One must explain the role of these machines.. these goupuscules and their
work of stacking and sifting--in cr*shing desire. It's a dilemma: to be
broken by the social system of to be integrated in the pre-established
structure of these little churches. In a way, May 1968 was an astonishing
revelation. The desiring power became so accelerated that it broke up the
groupuscules. These later pulled themselves together; they participated in
the reordering business with the other repressive forces, the CGT [Communist
worker's union], the PC, the CRS [riot police]. I don't say this to be
provocative. Of course, the militants courageously fought the police. But if
one leaves the sphere of struggle to consider the function of desire, one
must recognize that certain groupuscules approached the youth in a spirit of
repression: to contain liberated desire in order to re-channel it.
        Q: What is liverated desire? I certainly see how this can be
translated at the level of an individual or small group: an artistic
creation, or breaking windows, bnurning things, or even simply an orgy or
letting things go to hell through laziness or vegetating. But then what?
What could a collectively liberated desire be at the level of a social
group? And what does this signify in relation to t"the totality of society",
if you do not reject this term as Michel Foucault does. 

        FG: We have taken desire in one of its most critical, most acute
stages: that of the schizophrenic--and the schizo that can produce something
within or beyond the scope of the confined schizo, battered down with drugs
and social repression. It appears to us that certain schizophrenics directly
express a free deciphering of desire. But now does one conceive a collective
form of the economy of desire? Certainly not at the local level. I would
have a lot of difficulty imagining a small, liberated community maintaining
itself against the flows of a repressive society, like the addition of
individuals emancipated one by one. If, on the contrary, desire constitutes
the very texture of society in its entirety, including in its mechanisms of
reproduction, a movement of liberation can "crystallize" in the whole of
society. In May 1968, from the first sparks to local clashes, the shake-up
was brutally transmitted to the whole of society, including some groups that
had nothing remotely to do with the revolutionary movement--doctors,
lawyers, grocers. Yet it was vested interests that carried the day, but only
after a month of burning. We are moving toward explosions of this type, yet
more profound. 

        Q: Might there have already been a vigorous and durable liberation
of desire in hostpry, apart from brief periods. a celebration, cartnage,
war, opr revolutionary upheavals? Or do you really believe in an end of
history. after millenia of alienation, social evolution will suddenly turn
around in a final revolution that will liberate desire forever?

        FG: Neither the one nor the other. Neither a final end to history,
nor provisional excess. All civilizations, all periods have known ends of
history--this is not necessarily convincing and not necessarily liberating.
As for excewss, or moments of celebration, this is no more reassuring. There
are militant revolutionaries who feel a sense of responsibility and say: Yes
excess "at the first stage of revolution," serious things... Or desire is
not liberated in simple moments of celebration. See the discussion between
Victor and Foucault in the issue of *Les Temps Modernes* on the Maoists.
Victor consents to excess, but at the "first stage". As for the rest, as for
the real thing, Vicotr calls for a new apparatus of state, new norms, a
popular justice with a tribunal, a legal process external to the masses, a
third party capable of resolving contradictions among the masses. One always
finds the old schema: the detachment of a pseude-avant-garde capable of
bringing about syntheses, of forming a party as an embryo of state
apparatus, of drawing out a well brought up, well educated working class;
and the rest is a residue, a lumpen-proletariat one should always mistrust
(the same old condemnation of desire). But these distinctions themselves are
another way of trapping desire for the advantage of a bureaucratic caste.
Foucault reacts by denounding the third party, saying that if there is
popular justice, it does not issue from a tribunal. He shows very well that
the distinction "avant-garde-lumpen-proletariat" is first of all a
distinction introduced by the bourgeoise to the masses, and therefore serves
to crush the phenomena of desire, to *marginalize* desire. The whole
question is that of state apparatus. It would be strange to rely on a party
or state apparatus for the liberation of desire. To want better justice is
like wanting better judges, better cops, better bosses, a cleaner France,
etc. And then we are told: how would you unify isolated struggles without a
party? How do you make the machine work without a state apparatus? It is
evident that a revolution requires a war machine, out this is not a state
apparatus, it is also certain that it requires an instance of analysis, an
analysis of the desires of the masses, yet this is not an apparatus external
to the synthesis. Liberated desire means that desire escapes the impasse of
private fantasy: it is not a question of adapting it, socializing it,
disciplining it, but of plugging it in in such a way that its process not be
interrupted in the social body, and that its expression be collective. What
counts is not hte authoritarian unification, but rather a sort of infinite
spreading: desire in the schools, the factories, the neighborhoods, the
nursery schools, the prisons, etc. It is not a question of directing, of
tatalizing, but of plugging into the same plan of oscillation. As long as
one alternates between the impotent spontaneity of anarchy and the
bureaucratic and hierarchic coding of a party organization, there is no
liberation of desire.

        Q: In the beginning, was capitalism able to assume the social desires? 

        GD: Of course, capitalism was and remains a formidable desiring
machine. The monary flux, the means of production, of manpower, of new
markets, all that is the flow of desire. It's enough to consider the sum of
contingencies at the origin of capitalism to see to what degree it has been
a crossroads of desires, and that its infrastructure, even its economy, was
inseparable from the phenomnea of desire. And fascism too--one must say that
it has "assumed the social desires", including the desires of repression and
death. People got hard-ons for Hitler, for the beautiful fascist machine.
But if your question means: was capitalism revolutionary in its beginnings,
has the industrial revolution ever coincided with a social revolution? No, I
don't thing so. Capitalism has been tied from its birth to a savage
repressiveness; it had it's organization of power and its state apparatus
from the start. Did capitalism imply a dissolution of the previous social
codes and powers? Certainly. But it had alread established its wheels of
power, including its power of state, in the fissures of previous regimes. It
is always like that: things are not so progressive; even before a social
formation is established, its instruments of exploitation and repression are
already there, still turning in the vaccuum, but ready to work at full
capacity. The first capitalists are like waiting birds of prey. They wait
for their meeting with the worker, the one who drops through the cracks of
the preceding system. It is even, in every sense, what one calls primitive

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