Angela Mitropoulos on Wed, 2 Nov 2011 09:52:16 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The False Defences of Utopian Thought.

There are lots of reasons to argue against the calls to form a party,
and I've not read all of the discussion here, which I assume has been
going on elsewhere as well. But I'm curious as to why the issue of
debt isn't connected more firmly to that of representation. And I'm
always surprised to find the charge of utopianism being made in the
name of the idealised abstractions of representational politics.

I've appended a fragment of Marx's writings below,* not only because
it refers to the history of mortgages (since we are talking about
debt) but also because it illustrates the ways in which utopianism
was a fairly general form of criticism, and often a means to dismiss
anything other than "partial reforms." As Marx notes in this case, the
charge of utopianism was made against those who want something more
than the partial reform (ie., expansion) of credit.

Sure, there is the famous juxtaposition of scientific and utopian
socialisms. But there are also occasions when Marx speaks quite highly
of speculative fiction, just as there are instances where he uses the
accusation of utopianism to criticise those (rather Hegelian) attempts
to distinguish the good from the bad sides of property, and project
the former into some eternal future.

The question, then, is not about utopianism, but representation. And
on that, Marx is more than clear. I've not read David's book, so I
can't speak for his take on the issue.

But I'm doubtful that the charge of utopianism advances much. It
remains trapped in the logic of juxtaposing the putatively real to
the ostensibly imagined. Marx's approach (informed I think by a
Judaic prohibition on representing God), is not consonant with the
usual definition of utopian. He shifts the conventional terms of this
contrast between realism and speculation: for Marx, what we think of
as imagined is -- precisely because we can imagine it -- an idealised
variant of what exists, and therefore its projection into the future.

Debt, of course, is the financialised form of this projection. It
makes the future a calculable, contractual version of the present.

I couldn't agree more with a focus on debt. Yet, given the myriad
connections between debt and representation, I also couldn't think of
a better way to break with the expansion of debt than to refuse the
calls to make demands and/or form a party. The occupations will cease
being a force once they become corralled into this process. They will
inspire some to press for reforms, and make such reforms possible,
only for as long as the dynamic of capture remains unsuccessful and

The occupations lack nothing. In developing alternative
infrastructures for life, they are an eminently practical response
to the decades of declining welfare, health care, foreclosures,
impoverishment, and worse. Class society exists because we are obliged
to perform its contractual obligations (from that involving money, to
wage labour and so on) in order to live. Occupation and default are
strategies that have not always been chosen, but they are indeed the
most effective strategies I can see. And they are the ones that should
be supported. Parties, demands, etc are a distraction.


*In the mid-1840s, Marx responded in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to the 
impending publication of Thiers' pamphlet De la propriete. The pamphlet 
would be based on Thiers' speech to the French National Assembly, "a 
speech which," Marx relays," according to the Belgian Independance has 
dealt the "coup de grace" to paper money." That speech was itself a 
response to the proposal by Turck for the formation of a mortgage bank 
that would make credit generally available. This is the fragment:

"This speech interests us only because it illustrates the tactic of the 
knights of the old state of affairs, a tactic with which they correctly 
confront the Don Quixotes of the new state of affairs. If you demand a 
partial reform of the industrial and commercial conditions as was done 
by M. Turck whom Thiers was answering, they will confront you with the 
concatenation and interaction of the organisation as a whole. If you 
demand the transformation of the organisation as a whole, then you are 
destructive, revolutionary, unscrupulous, utopian and you overlook 
partial reforms. Hence the result: leave everything as it is. M. Turck 
for example wants to make it easier for the peasants to turn their 
landed property to account by means of official mortgage banks. He wants 
to bring their property into circulation without it having to pass 
through the hands of usurers. For in France, as generally in the 
countries where the land is divided into lots, the power of the feudal 
lords has been transformed into the power of the capitalists and the 
feudal obligations of the peasants have been transformed into bourgeois 
mortgage obligations.

What does M. Thiers reply to begin with? If you want to help the peasant 
by means of public banks you will encroach upon the small tradesman. You 
cannot aid one without hurting the other. Consequently we have to 
transform the entire system of credit? By no means! That is a utopia. 
Thus M. Turck is dismissed without ceremony."

On 2/11/2011 4:38 AM, Dmytri Kleiner wrote:
> ...
> A social theory is not Utopian because the future society it
> envisions is unrealistic, but rather because it fails to answer, or
> often even consider, the issue of how we could possible get there and
> achieve such a society, how we can overcome the resistance of those
> who would lose privilege and power in such a society. This lack makes
> such work not so much political thought, but better filed under
> Speculative Fiction.


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