When talking politics with your barber: two postmortem reflections of mid-November.

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In the post-election political situation, you talk politics and political economy, the dynamics of globalization and the dejection of its discontents, with friends at bars and burger joints; with your barber at a morning haircut; with your parents over an innocuous cup of coffee. Shit is hitting the fan and people are beginning to realize that it is everywhere, flying into every corner of the room.

Trump is an utter reactionary. [This much is obvious – what does it mean?] What this means is that, while he represents the definite political form of the existing class society, he has managed to engineer – or rather capture, or buy – the political will of an inherently progressive force, the disenfranchised masses of the exploited and oppressed heaving in its Herculean effort to outgrow, to unburden itself of the bondage imposed on it by: neoliberalism, free-trade and globalization, Reaganomics, Clintonomics, Trumpanomics – shit, whatever contrived degenerate form of crony capitalism we can coin new discourses about in its present forms. Trump wants to rewind the manifest reality of globalization, like all of the other reactionaries. This is what is now called, “protectionism.” It stinks. What it is is basically the late neoliberal equivalent of populism in the so-called “first world”, the socioeconomically developed and “progressive” west.

[When I say “reactionary”, I also mean a tendency that verbalizes itself in much more pernicious and violent ways, which all are familiar with: misogyny, racism, xenophobia, etc. That this exists in all its dangers as a part of the reactionary tendency calls us urgently to attention; it is also orthogonal to the point I endeavor briefly here to make. Hence I mean “reactionary” here primarily in the narrower economic sense, and hopefully allow the reader to draw out any further conclusions.]

Justin Trudeau delivered an address – aired on the coattails of Obama’s first public election postmortem – where he detailed [“detailed” may be a strong word – “alluded to”] Canada’s plans following a meeting with a forum of international investors positioned to speculate on Canadian stability through infrastructure spending. Trudeau is advertising Canada as open to the world, rather than closed to it. “Privatize everything” – the natural pairing to deficit spending – co-definitive of Keynesianism and the neoliberal project. Neoliberalism failed, and everywhere in today’s reaction is its death knell. The IMF has declared that neoliberalism was a failure as a set of economic policies. At a summit of G20 leaders, Trudeau was practically laughed off stage for presenting Keynesian economic policies as an alternative to brutal austerity plus Keynesian economic policies: the two go hand-in-hand, the former alone a naive delusion in the global political and economic climate we live. So, Trudeau is nearly as stuck in the past as Trump. In terms of economic and foreign policy and trade relations, Justin is simply rehashing the role of his papa Pierre, while Trump and Theresa May may yet play the parts of Ronald Reagan and Margaret “the Iron Woman” Thatcher. We’ve seen this movie before. It’s not a happy ending.

[So we have a series of arbitrary, spectacular divisions erupting within the forces of reaction, where today’s progressives will likely tend towards the more palatable or clandestine form of reaction of a Trudeau, distancing themselves further from any progressive elements in the support of the disenfranchised masses swept away by populism. This lets the rot of reaction under the existing political system fester.]

The reason that this class is utterly unable to find a solution to today’s crisis is ultimately that that article which most upholds their power – that is, the political and economic principle of private property – is exactly the stricture which prevents the new society from outgrowing the old. All conditions of alienation in the presently existing system are conditions of the growth of the embryo of the new within the old (to recall some tried but true revolutionary imagery).

Power & Politics pundits pipe up over why the federal government should have to court and cajole private investors into investing. The market is wiser than the politik – bookies have been reported as having given better odds on a Trump win than the pollsters. Humanity is hopelessly lost-in-the-woods, an honest to God real fable of the Grimms, in navigating the management of financial markets, because the existing market society attempts to harness indeterminacy as an axiomatic reification [empty abstractions: a self-fulfilling prophecy, a matter taken as given by the economists and thus turned into economic reality]; that is, as an alternative to rational planning, the auto-correcting value of the dollar, which squares up omnisciently against commodity and labour markets alike. Capitalism, the existence of capitalist markets, means not knowing how markets work – not entirely, some degrees of knowing being better than others, which is why finance capital exists and speculation is profitable – while there is so much stuffy talk about its management, the “stuff” only of the propertied and privileged strata of society protected from the smog where outside we are suffocating, crushed, clamoring for the comfort of their abundantly overvalued houses.

Radical redistribution is the best we can aim for: free education for all and a guaranteed universal basic income. Otherwise we can continue to stalk political talk like reapers smoking cigarettes to mock death on the bosses’ time.

[The seizure of political and economic power notwithstanding.]

Leonard Cohen is dead and I pray for another poet. I pray, being an atheist, and mourn that poetry is nothing.

My Canada would soar into tomorrow like it tears through the sorrow of a dead poet. It would find poetry in the now and not neglect the reality that we live where the kingdom of death and nihilism encompasses all around.

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Marxism and the Philosophy of Ideology, pt. III

See Part II of this series here.

Historical consciousness develops along with the material forces of history, and not through abstract rationality, as Hegel thought. Today, the mass of rational human subjects discovers their environment not as something self-alienated – that is, produced both by themselves and for themselves, as Hegel’s conservativism led him to regard in his own Enlightenment culture – but rather as an environment imposed with the hegemony of capitalism’s cultural, political, social, scientific and economic spaces. This point, of course, does not disprove the dialectical synthesis of Hegel’s view – it only adds to it a necessary material dimension. The mass of human subjects is entirely subordinated to the hegemonic rationality of the bourgeoisie, in the logical space carved out by capitalism. The reality of this logic is based entirely on abstractions, fictions drawn from the material forces of history and distorted in order to perpetuate the cultural authority and political power of the bourgeoisie.

Because the social existence of the proletariat is not at the same time its existence within a proletarian culture, ideology is driven into the working class, rather than revealed, in the last, to be something of themselves and for themselves. Althusser calls this driving force “interpellation”, which also means ‘hailing’ or ‘calling-forth’. Ideology calls us forth in the same way that police officers do when they hail you (‘Hey, you there!’). In the eyes of the Repressive State Apparatus, your existence is only as an abstract quantity, until so hailed, at which point said existence is qualitatively transformed, in this case, into that of a suspect.[1] It is the same with ideology.

This is, perhaps, the trickiest part to grasp of the philosophical puzzle concerning the functioning of ideology. Ideology hails us from the very instant we are born, at which moment we take on the label of being a son or a daughter, hence starting us towards developing a consciousness of ourselves as within the bourgeois family unit. Althusser makes some rather paradoxical comments at this stage about the nature of ideology: first, claiming that “ideology has no outside,”[2] meaning simply that the illusion of ideology is ever present, the task of science (specifically, of historical materialism) being to shatter this illusion; and second, that ideology “has no history,”[3] which makes sense if we consider that history belongs to the material processes which, in the last instance, determine particular ideologies, and are beyond them. If there is an outside of ideology, it is in the material processes of history. The history of ideology, because imaginary, is necessary immaterial.

Marxist science studies material processes and the most general dialectical laws that govern them. It does not deal in abstractions or imaginaries. However, it is necessary to understand the expression of the general laws in the imaginaries as well, in order to fully grasp the functioning of ideology. Individuals hailed by ideology are hailed as individual subjects. What does it mean to be a subject? Althusser offers an instructive example, in the case of Christian religious ideology:

… there can only be … a multitude of possible religious subjects on the absolute condition that there is a Unique, Absolute, Other Subject, i.e. God… God thus defines himself as the Subject par excellence, he who is through himself and for himself (‘I am that I am’), and he who interpellates his subject, the individual subjected to him… i.e. the individual named Moses. And Moses, interpellated-called by his Name, having recognized that it ‘really’ was he who was called by God, recognizes that he is a subject, a subject of God, a subject subjected to God, a subject through the subject and subjected to the Subject. The proof: he obeys him, and makes his people obey God’s Commandments.[4]

The God of the market is a many-faced God, but the general laws of ideology are the same. Ideology mirrors itself in its subjects, and individual subjects mirror themselves in ideology. Xenophanes of Colophon once remarked that, if oxen and horses had a religion, their gods would be painted with hooves[5] –Althusser adds that the oxen and horses would recognize themselves as real oxen and horses only on the condition of their semblance with their behooved gods. This generally holds true in the case of commodity fetishism under capitalism. The forces of capitalist production become fetishized, inscribed with a certain commodity value, and this recognition is doubled by that of the workers, who recognize themselves as commodities – that is, they recognize their embodied labour as obeying the logic of the commodity value-form. They recognize their labour power as a quantity of money, which can be exchanged with other commodities.

Fetishization occurs when the concrete or use-value of a product is invested entirely with abstract and imaginary quantities, detached from the actual processes of production that created the product in question, as in the transformation of productive processes by capitalism into commodity-production. Ideology overflows with the logic of fetishization, producing facts and formal logics completely separated from the material processes that gave rise to them. Religious iconography provides an overwhelming wealth of examples, but we may also observe this in the case of scientific revolutions, where old hardened dogmatists have often struggled not to give up belief in some entities, once thought real, which came to be thoroughly disproved in the face of new evidence; such was the case in Antoine Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen in the 18th-century, having first observed the process of oxidization, against which one Joseph Priestley defended the old theory of dephlogisticated air to the bitter end.

Under the general logic of fetishization, what-there-is is completely detached from how what-there-is is produced. The chemical dispute of Lavoisier and Priestley was but a trite example compared with the more devious ways in which ideology and fetishism combine in capitalist society to carve out imaginary divisions between concrete individuals. We often hear of the fetishization of gender, and race. The history of the western fetishization of Asian women, for example, extends back to the 15th-century, taking an upturn in the 18th, at the dawn of industrial capitalism, when European – mainly British – trade with Japan and China sharply increased. The sexual stereotype of Asian women as exotic and submissive is directly tied to the colonial history of western imperialist powers; this is an example of fetishization, because it leads to a valuation and, fundamentally, a misrecognition of individuals, having nothing to do with their material reality. Naturally, elements of the ideological apparatus combine in various ways. The fetishization of Asian women in the early days of British imperialism combines with the existing bourgeois ideology of the family, which envisions women as an extension of private property.

Fetishization becomes particularly dangerous in the era of capitalist globalization. The façade of multiculturalism is paraded before the material reality of capitalism’s cultural hegemony. As capitalism conquers the cultural sphere, the logic of the fetish becomes a way not only to misrecognize others in an imaginary way, but also to misrecognize oneself. Consider the self-experience of a transgendered person. At a certain point, their material reality as an embodied subject breaks with the ideological categories of gender imposed by capitalism and the rise of the state in institutions extending property rights into persons, which are typically identified as the structures of patriarchy.[6] Similarly, the proletariat exists for the most part under the stupor of bourgeois ideology driven by the culture industry; fetishization is driven by consumption, and it often takes some earth-shattering material event, such as a general strike or a steep and prolonged economic crisis, to shake workers from the consumption of their own manufactured submissiveness to exploitation. Both are conditions for the reproduction of capitalism’s productive forces.

The only way to break definitively with ideology and the logic of fetishization is with a scientific view consistently grounded in material reality. This is precisely the project of dialectical materialism. Just as with the example I gave of the transgendered individual, the revolutionary proletariat has the potential break with ideology by discovering its material reality. The science that aims at this is inherently revolutionary, because the material reality of the proletariat as a class is one and the same with the motor force of history, which is a real material force. The material reality of the transgendered person is as an individual; the material reality of the working class is as a collective. This thesis underlies the science of historical materialism.

As was seen in the case of the Christian religious ideology, the condition of the unity of individual subjects was external, subjected to and imagined to be of God’s will. With the working class, this condition of unity is intrinsic to their very material reality. The functioning of ideology disrupts the ability of the proletariat to recognize its own material reality, by carving up relations between individuals with imaginary divisions and distortions. Fetishization serves both to multiply and crystallize these divisions.

This misrecognition is at the heart of the functioning of ideology, which aims to root the building class consciousness of the proletariat out like a weed. But weeds will drive through every crack, and so too with the revolutionary will of the workers.

We have only to take on the additional task, as builders of the subjective factor of the revolution, i.e., of the revolutionary party, to attack ideology wherever it exists. This can be done only by subjecting ideology and ISAs to a consistent material critique, revealing the productive forces and reproductive dynamics underlying them.


Postscript – on the subjective factor, the revolutionary vanguard party.

Some of you might be asking, what of the subjective factor of the revolution – the need for a revolutionary vanguard party, to combine with the objective, material factor of the mass of workers and their incipient class consciousness? Is this Subject another form of Absolute, like God, unique to a particular form of ideology? Any worker who believes this will have gravely misrecognized their material reality. Hegel says,

Self-consciousness is in itself and for itself when and because it is in itself and for itself for another; that is, that it is recognized as such.[7]

This recognition is accomplished when the subjective and objective factors enter into a unity – when the mass of workers definitively combines with the theoretical understanding and advanced consciousness of the revolutionary vanguard. This recognition is possible because it accords with the material reality of the proletariat; it is historical because this material reality is also the motor force of history. Thus, articulating the Marxist philosophy of ideology does not force us to abandon the subjective/objective factor distinction, but rather reminds us that the relation of these two factors is dialectical in nature, with each pole interpenetrating with the other.

[1] Althusser (2009), 48.

[2] Ibid., 49.

[3] Ibid., 34.

[4] Ibid., 52-3.

[5] Ref. in Alan Woods & Ted Grant, Reason in Revolt, 2nd ed. (London: Wellred Books, 2012), 42.

[6] Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), especially Ch. 2-4.

[7] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), §178. My translation and emphasis.

Marxism and the Philosophy of Ideology, pt. II

See Part I of this series here.

We need only think of Wal-Mart’s notorious anti-union propaganda ‘training’ videos to see the force of ideology in action. Unions are a counterbalance to the unbridled anarchy of capitalist production. They’re also a threat to the power of the capitalist class. Producing an anti-union consciousness is a particularly effective, and pernicious way of reproducing capitalist power and production.

Now, most instances of ideology in action aren’t as obvious as the Wal-Mart example. Capitalism is not only an economic system – it is a cultural force. Capitalism is able to reproduce its relations of production in countless ways, both on the factory floors and beyond them. This insight takes us from ideology as it exists in concrete relations of capitalist production, to ideology as it exists as a state apparatus under capitalism. It is this which leads Althusser to turn our attention from ideology in general, to the historical development of Ideological State Apparatuses, in general.

An Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) is a special breed of Repressive State Apparatus, the latter of which secures through the direct use of force the political conditions for the functioning of the former. The Repressive State Apparatus is the direct arm of state power: police, the military, etc. Thus, a division of labour exists between the two kinds of state apparatuses. Althusser does suggest that a particular state apparatus is not likely to operate wholly either by ideology or by direct repression, but rather holds that “the (Repressive) State Apparatus functions massively and predominantly by repression, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function massively and predominantly by ideology.”[1]

For much of humankind’s social development during the pre-capitalist historical period, the Church was the singular, dominant ISA in society.[2] During the French Revolution of the 18th-century, it was absolutely essential that the burgeoning capitalist class challenged not only the absolute right to property and ownership of the means of production of the feudal aristocracy, but also the intellectual authority of the Church, as the main ideological support of monarchial power and land right throughout Europe, and beyond.

In the modern period of capitalist development, the central authority of the Church ISA becomes fractured and dispersed through a plurality of new institutions. Education becomes largely the responsibility of a professional class of teachers, rather than priests, in institutions owned and operated either by the state, or privately (which is increasingly the case in the current period of capitalist crisis). In school, we learn bourgeois history, thoroughly revised and “purified” of any revolutionary content; we also learn all of the basic skills required for us to become productive members of capitalist society. Today, even kindergarteners are learning computer programming in school. Just as yesterday, when we trained today’s civil and industrial engineers in the best available physical and social sciences. The basic education one is entitled to receive under capitalism is entirely at the sway of the productive forces in society.

There are other ISAs in the modern period. The parliamentary-political ISA combines universal suffrage with rhetoric and a smattering of reformist policies to produce a basic false consciousness – recently touted quite fervently by Rex Murphy in one of his vacillating centrist CBC rants – that voters possess the ultimate power under bourgeois democracy. Scientific institutions have long produced an understanding of the natural world that consummates the authority of bourgeois rule, for example, through Charles Darwin’s vulgar theory of natural adaptation, which continues to inform much research in evolutionary developmental biology, leading to a view of capitalist society as a social ecology in which the bourgeoisie thrive and survive as a class not off of the backs of exploited workers, but simply because they are the “fittest”. Lastly, broadcast-media ISAs, which create an additional layer of representation atop any experience of material reality, represent not our real conditions of existence as such, but only their imaginary distortion, biased by corporate owners or state sponsors in support of the aims of the capitalist class.

We can see that ISAs exist not only in order to reproduce the forces of capitalist production, but also to reproduce the value-framework of capital, which, in the last instance, amounts to the same thing.

Countless beliefs and representations, signifiers of the capitalist order and the bourgeois imaginary, circulate through the ideological superstructure of society. Now, there is one more element of the functioning of ideology that we have not yet considered. If ideology in ISAs is at its core the totality of beliefs and representations that exist in the bourgeois imaginary about capitalist society, and ideology in general functions to reproduce capitalist productive forces by bringing workers over to belief in the bourgeois worldview, then ideology must, in its functioning, make it so that the working class takes the thought of the bourgeoisie immediately to be its own. If this was not the case, then the mass of workers would quite easily witness the reality of their alienation in the struggle between frameworks of ideas – proletarian and bourgeois, revolutionary or reformist – on the factory floors themselves. The proletariat is not consciously convinced of the bourgeois worldview; rather, no other worldview seems to exist, from the perspective of the individual effectively subdued by the spell of the ISAs.

We should note here that the very crux of Hegel’s early dialectical method, from the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), proceeds by the overcoming of media (mediations/representations), to a point where consciousness becomes increasingly certain both of itself and the concepts of its understanding; that is, certain of them, immediately. This process iterates itself in each case that the knower – a rational human subject – discovers some part of their environment as self-alienated.

To be continued…

[1] Althusser (2009), 23. My emphasis.

[2] Ibid., 25.

Marxism and the Philosophy of Ideology

This is the first of a multi-post series based on a leadoff I gave June 10th, 2016, for a Montréal branch of Fightback: the Canadian Section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). It approaches the question of ideology from a perspective largely inspired by the structuralist Marxism avowed by Louis Althusser in the late 60s to early 70s.

A prefatory note: Althusser occupies the slightly uncomfortable historical position of having simultaneously given structuralism is clearest theoretical formulation as a critical theory, while demonstrating its limits. Naturally, one asks of the question of ideology, a cui bono – that is, an ideology for whom? from the perspective of which subject? Structuralist critique cannot stand against itself without coming undone – from the perspective of a subject yet to come, or a subject in a different historico-factical situation, what is taken as the material of a science is called ideological, and vice versa. Let it be said that Althusser’s always was an explicitly partisan philosophy. “Class struggle in the field of theory” was for him definitive of philosophy. Thus, that the following presentation is presented from the position of the proletariat as the subject of history, that is, as its motor force, an a priori assumption of the science of historical materialism, should not be considered as a substantive critique, but merely as a partisan difference (with empirical consequences).


Let’s begin with a quote, from the Preface to The German Ideology (1845-6/1932), to help us define our scope.

Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose harmful results all statistics brought him new and manifold evidence. This valiant fellow was the type of the new revolutionary philosophers in Germany.[1]

Our question is a philosophical one: what is ideology? And how does it function? It is also a practical one. How does ideology relate to the oppression and exploitation of the masses in capitalist society? What sorts of material conditions give rise to ideology as an extension of bourgeois power? And, perhaps most importantly, how does one differentiate between ideology and scientific fact? These will be the guiding questions of our present discussion.

First: what is ideology? As Marxists, we are materialists. We are not the sorts of vulgar materialists, who, like Feuerbach, would reduce all of the realm of ideas to the level of material reality, while at the same time holding that the essence of what is material only becomes real in ideology, for example, in Christian theology.[2] Engels skilfully detects this contradiction in Feuerbach’s thought in the 1886 work on the latter.

For Feuerbach, our ability to conceive of an idea so grand as the gods, and to base entire religions around them, showed that ideas somehow have a greater reality than matter. Feuerbach once said of the emergence of rational thought in human subjects as we evolved from the apes, that he agreed with the dialectical materialist view “going backwards, but not forwards”. As dialectical materialists, we argue that rational thought, that consciousness itself, is not beyond matter, but is instead the highest realization of matter. Religion does not surpass matter; religion, at base, has a material reality.

In the same way, ideology has a material existence. This is one of the theses on ideology argued by Louis Althusser, in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”.[3] Ideology exists in the rituals and practices of concrete individuals in material institutions: priests in the Church speaking hocus pocus (‘hoc est corpus meum’) over the Eucharist; Wall Street bankers who perceive the world through the spectacular calculations of bourgeois economics, shuffling about in a panic as the market fluctuates, in a virtual microcosm of the anarchy of capitalist production.

However, if this was all that there was to the substance of ideology, then it would be enough that we seize all of the factories tomorrow in order to topple bourgeois ideology wherever it exists. This is clearly not so. Ideology is an element of the superstructure of bourgeois society. The superstructure is dialectically related to a society’s material base. So, how we function materially produces in us a certain consciousness – ideas about how we ought to function – which we then apply concretely as a way of organizing our labour, along with the productive forces in society. Marx describes the dialectical relation between superstructure and base in The German Ideology, and Althusser further develops this idea in his own work.

This is how, by owning all of the means of production in society, the ruling class also comes to dominate society ideologically. Here, we should recall Marx’s well-known slogan: the ruling ideas in society are the ideas of its ruling class.

Now, how does ideology function – and what does it function to do? The first part of this question, according to Althusser, was not adequately considered by Marx, who instead answers to the second part of the question. Says Althusser,

… it is not their real conditions of existence, their real world, that ‘men’ ‘represent to themselves’ in ideology, but above all it is their relation to those conditions of existence which is represented to them there. It is this relation which is at the centre of every ideological, i.e. imaginary, representation of the real world. It is this relation that contains the ‘cause’ which has to explain the imaginary distortion of the ideological representation of the real world.[4]

Let’s make this a little more clear. If workers represented their real conditions of existence to themselves in ideology, then they would eventually, without fail, develop an advanced class consciousness, simply as a result of the material social relations of their labour. They would recognize themselves as a collective force and will, rather than as individuals, with relative ease. Wouldn’t that simplify the task of the revolutionary party! So, it isn’t the real conditions of the base of society that workers represent to themselves in ideology, but rather the imaginary representations of those conditions, which make up the superstructure of bourgeois society.

For the most part, the working class is not awake to the reality of their exploitation. This is the result of a manufactured social reality imposed by the ruling class, which produces in workers a submissiveness to exploitation. It is not that workers know themselves to be exploited and are unaffected by this fact, but rather that the bourgeois ideology produces a consciousness in individual workers which leads them to believe that their material exploitation is in fact the best of all possible worlds. Ideology is principally a force that reproduces capitalist relations of production, by representing to individuals a positive understanding of themselves as within the framework of capitalist production.

This was the point already made by Marx: “The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce.”[5]

To be continued

[1] Marx, The German Ideology (1932). My emphasis.

[2] Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of German Classical Philosophy (1886), §2-3.

[3] Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1970) in On Ideology (New York: Verso, 2009), 39.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Marx (1932), Part I. A: “Idealism and Materialism”. My emphasis.

Death, Seizure, Worker’s Control

This evening in our circle, we discussed the notion of worker’s control.  If we look to a letter, written by Trotsky from exile in Turkey to German Social Democrats, we are told that

Control can be imposed only by force upon the bourgeoisie, by a proletariat on the road to the moment of taking power from them, and then also ownership of the means of production. Thus the regime of workers’ control, a provisional transitional regime by its very essence, can correspond only to the period of the convulsing of the bourgeois state, the proletarian offensive, and the failing back of the bourgeoisie, that is, to the period of the proletarian revolution in the fullest sense of the word.

The convulsion of the bourgeois state is the symbol of its death, naturally, as any beast that is shot through its head will jerk.  But what if these convulsions were not restricted solely to the bourgeois state in the spectacle of its death, but were also a performance of the new declaration of worker’s control?  We must interpret it at once as both, to approach the problematic from the position of the Marxian orthodoxy, since it is the sound of the cannons of the proletariat that draw the master’s blood.

Listen to the words of this song by Joy Division: “She’s Lost Control”.  The song is about an epileptic girl suffering from her seizures.  Ian Curtis, who often sang of alienation and sadly hung himself, also suffered from epilepsy.  In addition to convulsions and a loss of control over one’s body, the epileptic seizure creates dissonance between the subject and the self, resulting in confusion and the absence of awareness: “Confusion in her eyes that says it all // She’s lost control”.

On one possible diagnosis, the seizure of control of the worker assumes an epileptic form.  This is to say that the worker (whose consciousness is that of a class, if not immediately then certainly at least in the event of the seizure; his diagnosis is thus that of the class, as a whole, that seizes) loses control of the body, the corpus or simply a body politic, losing itself in the event of its seizure through the loss of class awareness.  The result is a loss of control, which can be either a relinquished control returned to the bourgeoisie (as with our Spanish anarchists) or a constitutive loss of control that degenerates and transforms the sovereignty of the worker’s state (as with the Soviet Union).

This does not require that we be able to cite Joy Division as any kind of authority on the political emancipation of the proletariat.  I am told that Ian Curtis voted for Thatcher in ’79.  Rather, we must only allow ourselves an expeditious flight into metaphor, to allow us to unfold an argument.

If epilepsy in the individual patient is reducible to neurophysiology, then the epilepsy of the working class must be related to historico-material conditions, in keeping with the metaphysical doctrine of dialectical materialism.  I am not, strictly speaking, a materialist; however, immanent critique requires the principles of the tradition under diagnosis (and like any medical doctor, we can hope to be so ennobled as to strive towards its health!).

It is a law of the logic of capitalism that living labour, the labour of traditional factory workers, comes to be replaced by fixed labour as a result of capitalist investment in the machinery of production.  This is familiar as every technocratic worker’s fear: the fear of one’s labour, of one’s self as a terminus in the labour process, being replaced by automation.  Marx expounds such laws in Capital, and also in the Grundrisse.  This investment into the machines of production becomes absorbed into the process of capital itself.

This machinery, which is a force of production, also manufactures labour power.  Machines produce, but insofar as they produce they also free up the labour power of non-automated labour production (that is, of the workers).  But the laws of capital are also such that labour power is converted from social labour into fixed labour, which is none other than the machines themselves.  Thus, fixed labour, and thereby labour itself, is reproductive.

Baudrillard has called this the “hegemony of dead labour over living labour,” which is also a hegemony of fixed over social labour.  This hegemony arises out of the internal contradictions of capitalism.  For Marx, the transformation from fixed back to social labour is a problem whose solution is to be carried out under the sovereignty of the emancipated proletariat; Marxian fixity does not have in it the finality of Baudrillard’s ‘death’.  Particularities of this solution aside, we find ourselves now able to diagnose the epileptic worker.  Here, it is worth quoting Baudrillard at length:

In the Grundrisse, Marx says: ‘Labour becomes productive only by producing its own opposite [that is, capital]’ (p. 305n), from which we may logically conclude that if labour comes to reproduce itself, as is the case today within the compass of the ‘collective labourer’, it ceases to be productive.  This is the unforeseen consequence of a definition which did not even consider that capital might take root in something other than the ‘productive’, precisely, perhaps, in labour voided of its productivity, in ‘unproductive’ labour, somehow neutralised, where capital simply eludes the dangerous determinacy of ‘productive’ labour and can begin to establish its total domination (Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, 1996).

Modern capitalism creates the phenomenon of unproductive labour.  This labour is not localized in the traditional factory site held in such high regard by those historical hopefuls of a classical proletarian emancipation.  Perhaps it is more self-evident to affluent workers of the West: any call center, any shopping mall, any software engineering firm or office where programmers work, is a site of unproductive labour.  Terms like ‘busy-work’ and the much dreaded ‘make-work project’ give voice to this form of labour.  Recent estimates for the average amount of time spent by such workers on work, in the course of an eight-hour working day, range from 2.5 to 6 hours.

The result is the corruption of the proletariat.  Baudrillard goes on to argue that the working class takes on the values and habits of its new role as the unproductive class.  This is far flung from the figure of the slave who, in Hegel’s dialectic, constitutes its own self-consciousness essentially by working on it (see Phenomenology of Spirit, §178-196); the value of the unproductive labour is pure negativity, essentially constituting itself as death.  Baudrillard autopsies the unions of French workers in the 60s and 70s, which – precisely as they make an appearance only as a death, as a class incapable of building through a connection to labour it has lost – acquiesce, without spirit, to the total control of the ruling class.

A working class convulsing, and at the moment of its seizure of control, losing it.  Beyond all of this epileptic poeticizing, there is a concrete question to put forth: has the working class been fundamentally transformed under the re-productive revolution in the modern capitalist state? – that is, has the proletariat been corrupted, as Baudrillard suggests?  Is the epileptic working class of the West capable today – suspending judgement over all yesterdays – of seizing and maintaining a state of worker’s control?

Here, I have no answers.  I am listening again to the words of Joy Division’s song: “the myths and the lies” of neoliberal ideology and capitalism; a “darkness” that breaks in as a negation of this mythology, which also breaks down the afflicted epileptic worker for whom it exists as a negative; when worker’s control is lost, “the change is gone,” and with it “the urge [for change/to lose control] is gone”.  To lose control is an urge – control cannot be lost if not first seized.  Finally, “When here we come” is either a promissory note (the urge will come again: here we [the workers/slaves] come); or it is moribund resignation (the urge to lose control was gone when we came here).

I could live a little better with the myths and the lies,

When the darkness broke in, I just broke down and cried.

I could live a little in a wider line,

When the change is gone, when the urge is gone,

To lose control.  When here we come.

Madness Under Modern Capitalism

Let’s talk about madness. Schizophrenia: from the ancient Greek schizo, meaning ‘split,’ and phrene, meaning ‘mind.’ But of course, in recent history, since around the 19th century, our ways of thinking about ‘schizophrenia’ have become much more complicated: a growing function of social and psychiatric progress. The history of our understanding of this complex manner of madness boomed in around the 1980s, with a neurophysiological descriptive explosion spurred on by new research, resulting in new pharmacological treatments and an eventual explosion in subtypes. This expanding bubble of complications popped somewhat in 2013, when the DSM-5 recommended dropping all subtype classifications, leaving us with alone again with just ‘schizophrenia,’ itself.

Hanging before our psychiatric institutions, our own schizoid selves.
Hanging before its religion, policing morals and condemning to Hell.

Hanging before us, quite intimately, as a reflection on the nature of the self and the possibility of our familiarity with it. Staring at us as a phenomenology of the Other – but, is it also an othering ontology? The majority consensus on schizophrenia since as early as the 19th century has been to regard it primarily as a physical disorder: today, a mental disorder symptomatically contingent upon neurophysiology and specific patterns of neurological decay. However, as Ronny Turner and Charles Edgley argue, “only after behavior is labeled as deviant can it be identified as such & diagnosed as chemically caused.”[1] The specific causal mechanisms of schizophrenia remain elusive. The neurochemicalists put social disorder at only a brain scan away from mental disorder and pharmacological normalization. Their strict materialist conception of the disease downplays or outright denies the significance of sociocultural causes. And this conception is reflected in treatment.

Never mind that recovery outcomes for people suffering from schizophrenia have been shown across a multitude of international studies commissioned by the World Health Organization to be significantly greater for patients in developing countries, where pharmacological intervention is not the standard of care, over developed countries. “Far from being mere incidental cultural music … therapeutic benefits [appear to be] forgone under circumstances of enforced supported dependency.”[2] Never mind that male African Caribbean immigrants to the United Kingdom are as much as ten times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than young Brits, in spite of the orthodox epidemiologist’s taxonomy of environmental and genetic factors predicting deviations of rates of incidence of schizophrenia within only about a single percent across cultures[3] (similar figures exist in studies of immigrants to the Netherlands.) Even differentiation between rates of early onset in males and females, for a time thought to be one robust and well-replicated result in the tome of our largely uncertain knowledge of schizophrenia, has recently been found to be a confounded finding.[4] The data is simply not as secure as we are led to believe by psychiatry and its affiliated institutions. (Perhaps the nice old owners of the pharmaceutical firms responsible for producing antipsychotic drugs have no vested interests in these matters.)

There are many questions: why the better outcomes for sufferers of schizophrenia in developing countries? Why the increased risk for culturally dislocated immigrants? Social causes and socially structured care. Perhaps these questions jointly suggest an answer, pointing to a radical reconceptualization of schizophrenia as a socially constructed disorder. Of course, this does not detract in any way from its reality, simply put. It is just that we should consider both treatments for and causes of the disease to have a fundamentally sociological character. The mental trauma endured by child sufferers of abuse can be tracked in distinct physiological characteristics of the developmental brain later on in life. Why think that the daily traumas experienced in life within the totalizing technosphere of modern capitalism could not equally mark their tracks in the brain?

We will not lapse into full-blown dealings with Deleuze, here. However, our conception of schizophrenia is determined by several of the various institutions within Western medical science, and so it is suitable to seek answers to these questions somewhere in the framework of sociopolitical assumptions that creates the context in which said institutions lay their foundations. From Levins,

The bourgeois atomistic view of society, as applied to science, asserts that progress is made by a few individuals (who just happen to be “us”) … Individualism in science helps create the common belief that the properties of populations are simply derivable from those of the uncharged atoms (genes) of populations or societies…

The specialization of scientific labor and of command functions from research creates a model of scientific organization that is easily seen as the model for the organization of the world. Nature is perceived as following the organization chart of our company or university, with similar phenomena united under a single chairman, distinct but related phenomena united under a common dean. Thus specialization in practice joins with atomistic individualism to reinforce the reductionism that still predominates in the implicit philosophy of scientists.[5]

Individualism and reductionism: sever the individual from society, reduce the cause of the patient’s condition to something entirely material, or physical. Correct neurological imbalances with powerful dopamine reuptake inhibitors, enforcing treatment within the confines of special types of prisons called mental health hospitals. In India, greater health outcomes for schizophrenics have been attributed to a highly attentive family based care model, based on the specific needs of the suffering individual and typically carried out in the home. Pharmacological interventions are significantly less common.  A recent sixteen month ethnographic study on the standards of psychiatric treatment for schizophrenics in ‘developing’ India finds that “a model of medical care that deemphasizes patient autonomy [i.e., individualization] and the rational understanding of pathology [i.e., reductionism] benefits those diagnosed with schizophrenia.”[6]

It is not that all scientists in the West are themselves bourgeois, but they are largely the ideologues of the ruling class. An inter-institutional struggle between the old Enlightenment ideals for science and its unending search for Truth, and the post-positivistic research cartels racing to some finish line just to finally get it right and to get the last word (and more often than not, to patent it as intellectual property) has created a rift between the laborers of science based on their support or repudiation of commoditization. The poor outcomes of Western medical science with respect to schizophrenia points to a point of contradiction, where the values imposed from the top-down through enforced institutional arrangements that benefit the ruling class might be exposed as oppressive. To root out these oppressive values, we must take aim at the commoditization of science. And this, in turn, will lead us squarely to a critique of the great modern romance between science, technology, and capitalism.

[1] See “From Witchcraft to Drugcraft: Biochemistry as Mythology,” in The Social Science Journal 20.4 (1983).

[2] Hopper and Wanderling, “Revisiting the Developed Versus Developing Country Distinction in Course and Outcome in Schizophrenia,” in Schizophrenia Bulletin 26.4 (2000).

[3] Jones and Fung, “Ethnicity and Mental Health: The Example of Schizophrenia in the African Caribbean Population in Europe,” in Ethnicity and Causal Mechanisms (2005), 227-61.

[4] Jablensky and Cole, “Is the earlier age at onset of schizophrenia in males a confounded finding?” in British Journal of Psychiatry 170 (1997).

[5] Levins & Lewontin, “The Commoditization of Science,” in The Dialectical Biologist (1985).

[6] Sousa, “Pragmatic ethics, sensible care: Psychiatry and schizophrenia in north India,” available in Sociological Abstracts.

Freedom Isn’t Free



May 25th, early afternoon.

Here is an idea.

“Freedom isn’t free.”. It reminds of us the song from that post-9/11 great American satire by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Team America: World Police.  “It costs folks like you and me.”

What defines the democratic institutions of Western Liberalism – at least in their idealized forms – is just freedom itself.

I am sitting in the backyard, with construction noise blaring out behind me.  Inside and on the TV, some Conservative politician has been raving about his ‘Common Sense’ approach to gun control laws for the last twenty minutes or so.

We are a generation which asks, “freedom for whom?”  We see the people in and around our society who are free – we see the actual ideals of freedom embodied by our institutions.  Freedom is mostly economical, its ideal very bourgeois.  The eternal question that we ask ourselves, ringing out from our younger years when its expectations were washed out of us: “what would I do, if money didn’t matter?”

Society profits off of the dream of this elusive freedom in every way that’s imaginable, and of course these profits are unequally distributed among an elite minority. A most transparent wealth of examples comes from the pool of any province, state or sovereign’s lottery corporations.

“Freedom isn’t free.”

Go figure – the ideal of Western Liberalism is and always was based on slavery. Take a look at ancient Athenian democracy, and Aristotle and Plato (taken at their word) become apologists. Now we’re all globalized, emigrated and intermingled, so it’s harder than ever to discriminate purely on a racial basis who becomes the enslaved. But that has never mattered as much as we are told it has. We easily forget that, in each original state in America which countenanced slavery in the history of its ‘founding,’ free black men owned slaves. Freedom, again, is just freedom to participate in a special economic institution – that of slavery.

And not much has changed since then.

The university has become a site of direct economic and indirect ideological oppression of young people. To the credit of the histories of our academic institutions, the universities have mostly also continued to be sites which foster the critical minds of young social progressives who choose to become their students.

Now universities have been moving for quite some time towards a privatized funding model, and even department headings are reshuffled and prioritized directly by virtue of their productive capacities. Traditional continental universities do not distinguish between the natural and the human ‘sciences,’ for example; this is why the French and some German traditions in philosophy have made more efforts to impress their relatively more highly esteemed colleagues in history, sociology, and anthropology, compared to the cold logicism of their ‘pure’ Western analytic counterparts, all in awe of science and its industrious technology. A new young bourgeois has grown within the walls of the technocratic elements espoused by Western Liberalism throughout the history of its romance with industry, and now Silicon Valley is worth more than Wall Street (a capitalist topology.) And this is increasingly where university funding is coming from.

The pains of cuts to our universities are unevenly distributed. Students in the humanities – in philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, women’s studies, critical theory, etc. – are seeing their departments put on the chopping block, while engineers and computer scientists remain untouched and aloof, often even oblivious to the realities that stand at the periphery of their perceptions: in a word, an elite.

This uneven distribution naturally expresses itself in the form of a political division. While I dare not speak univocally, I have witnessed firsthand these divisions in Quebec, in student association assemblies and solidarity meetings, an opposition and antagonism expressed through absence in the anti-austerity movement’s student layers, there in those streets where we find most often students from the ‘humanities.’ I would expect that the experiences of many others will attest to this.

No doubt the teachings of these departments are more often directed at a lived experience of critical thinking, which also explains why the greater numbers of students of the left in these departments. But students in the ‘hard’ sciences and engineering are seldom socio-politically daft. Moreover, one need not look far in any given discipline to find the values of the ruling class, expressed either implicitly or explicitly.

We see that our departments are less valued. Privatization and funding cuts crush the critical culture, exercising economic pressure through massively climbing student debt and an inability to find jobs in our disciplines, or anywhere that pays close to a living wage. The young are increasingly the wage-slaves, and those that try to better understand, in order to improve society itself are doubly punished with the burden of debt and the threat of under-labouring alienation. Student loan horror-stories stand their tellers like heads on pikes foreboding the entry of many others for whom the prospect of such a debt is a more literal death sentence.

Our Western neo-Liberalism still punishes poverty as if it is a social sin. Our democratic institutions are designed to give freedom to the slave-owners, as ever have they been.

We are kept even from being culturally significant – critically underrepresented in bourgeois media, taking recourse thereby to social media – just as barbarians in the old Athenian polis.

Here is an etymology game: ‘barbarism,’ from the Greek barbarismos, meaning roughly “to speak like a foreigner.” Bar bar bar bar… phonetically signifies meaningless jibberish. Nothing is more barbarous, in this purest sense, than the oppressed voice of the radical left to the ears of the bourgeoisie, young or old. Barbarians then and now, we are simply paid little mind, as one quickly tunes out of the sounds of a foreign language, when one is not quite eager to understand.

Nietzsche’s hammer doesn’t belong in our hands anymore. It belongs at the front steps of all of our democratic institutions. They are ageing and decrepit, so they shouldn’t be tough to topple. Freedom is very free, but it too is enslaved, corrupted at its excess by a minority of the obscenely wealthy.

The anarchists are utopians intoxicated on the escapist ideology of the absolutely ‘free’ – we may be drunk on an idea, but perhaps not quite so much. We need some institutions, but they call for us to rebuild them.

The abolition of old institutions must smash at the foundations of economism. Abolish the Senate, a historical faithful to the British House of Lords. Nationalize the banks. And crucially, end the privatization of university funding. As outsourced research labs for corporations, universities are rapidly becoming sites for scientific discovery at the major expense of human (self-)discovery, technological rather than social progress.

And all of this is preliminary to the question of the kinds of results that lie within the network of possibilities for such sciences, directions of research programs and their implicit sociocultural biases. But, we must never absent ourselves from rooting out such oppressive ideologies at their material source…

Dialectical Biology // Cognitive Maoism

Modified from my forthcoming, ‘Epistemic Dynamics of a Revolutionary Science.’

Of course the speed of light is the same under socialism and capitalism, and the apple that was said to have fallen on the Master of the Mint in 1664 would have struck his Labor Party successor three-hundred years later with equal force. But whether the cause of tuberculosis is said to be a bacilus or the capitalist exploitation of workers, whether the death rate from cancer is best reduced by studying oncogenes or by seizing control of factories – these questions can be decided objectively only within the framework of certain sociopolitical assumptions (Levins & Lewontin 1985, 4-5).

By ‘science,’ we speak of variously many things.  There are scientific theories – explanatory hypotheses about the natural world – and even technological commodities, which are the products of science.  Then, there is a network of social actors, orthodoxically thought to consist primarily or even exclusively of ‘scientists,’ the fruits of whose collective efforts constitute the social production of these products.  Finally, there is a third respect in which we speak of science; in this sense, there is a worldview, approximately but not exclusively defined by the socially productive modes and products of science, which presents the manifest image of reality as the scientific image (see Bas Van Fraassen, The Scientific Image (1980) on the distinction between the manifest vs. the scientific image of reality.)  I do not mean to suggest that there is a single ‘worldview’ that is consistent across the endless spectrum of scientific disciplines and subdisciplines; worldviews differ significantly between Mendelian and molecular genetics, between Newtonian mechanics and relativity theory; indeed, historical cases abound in which some such cases of collisions between worlds had significant sociopolitical consequences.  Here, I mean only to articulate the relation between the historically contingent social worldview and the productive modes of science.  The mode of this scientific worldview is primarily ideological; by understanding this ideological mode in an Althusserian vain, we see that social relations of knowledge production in science are both materially and ideologically productive; in this sense, both the theoretical products of the first, and the scientific worldview of the third senses in which we speak of science are essentially ideological.  The dominant Western scientific ideology operating in and between each of these layers has been variously critiqued by philosophers of the Left: for its deeply methodologically entrenched oppressive patriarchal values, exposed by feminist philosophers of science; for its bourgeois Capitalist values and culturally imperialistic violence, decried by epistemological anarchists and Marxist scientists alike.  Arguments for the value-ladenness at each of these levels abound.  The Mertonian myth of value-free objectivity of the early twentieth-century has only served to engender a certain disinclination among interested parties of scientists and stakeholders to challenge (or even to see) the framework of sociopolitical assumptions in which these social and material relations of knowledge production are arranged.

The scientific worldview sets epistemological boundary conditions that narrow and define our conception of ‘truth.’  When this feedback loop is allowed to continue, the result is a paradigmatic period of Kuhnian ‘normal science’; for many, this is not a vicious circle, but rather a precondition of scientific progress.  I hardly need to state that the story of stable progress along the lines projected by the status quo characteristically fails to convince those who detect oppression in the orthodoxy.  Epistemic features of theories are designed to aim at ‘truth’; however, minimally insofar as our conception of ‘truth’ is refined by ideological production and for the sake of ideological reproduction (a further Althusserian notion), we should expect that the idea has a material existence that exerts its force on the social means of knowledge production.  The ‘framework of sociopolitical assumptions’ raised by Levins and Lewontin is an idea which directly challenges the question of ‘truth,’ by challenging the proper construal of standard epistemic features in biological theories.  They reject Cartesian reductionism as a manifestation of oppressive ruling class values being insinuated into scientific methodology as a guiding epistemic principle, presenting work from across the fields of evolutionary and population sciences, molecular biology and zoology, to demonstrate the value in adopting a dialectical ‘truth-concept’ as an epistemic aim in the sciences.  The selection of truth-concept is established with express political motivation.

An epigraph is set in the beginning of The Dialectical Biologist (1985); it reads,

To Frederick Engels,

who got it wrong a lot of the time

but who got it right where it counted

So too did Levins and Lewontin get ‘it right where it counted.’  The form of ideological revolution presupposed by dialectical biology amounts to scientific or cognitive Maoism; it is thereby ill-equipped to fulfil its mandate, to be an ideologically emancipatory science, counterposed to the dominantly Cartesian orthodoxy.  We can conceive of an alternative view – with a Trotskyist spirit – in Longino’s contextual empiricist approach to the study of the social relations of knowledge production.  Longino’s view pushes for greater diversification among practitioners of science, to maximally widen the array of background beliefs employed in the production of knowledge; however, diversification within the constraints of Western science is effective only up to a point.  Barring the revolutionary abolition of class antagonisms, the material reality of Western science is such that oppressed beliefs remain alienated from the centralized, sanctioned body of permissible bourgeois-ified background beliefs.  Thus, the ideological erosion of the scientific worldview on a material basis must serve as a precondition for ideological emancipation; furthermore, this erosion must proceed from the bottom-up, under the unity of an educational program, rather than from the top-down, under the forcible instilment of dialectics.  As is so often seen in the realpolitik of emancipation, spontaneous solidarity builds between sectarian pockets of the revolutionary Left.  Likewise, my predominantly Marxist analysis benefits here from the groundwork laid by Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism.

The question may arise as to what sorts of concrete results we might be entitled to expect as a result of the program of ideological erosion, and of the transitional program of a subsequent dialectic reconstitution of science in society.  Feyerabend argues that separate and distinct traditions of knowledge are likely to be mutually enriched as a result of open theoretical discourse.  If correct, then epistemic enrichment is a beneficial consequence of the ideological erosion of the scientific worldview on the material basis of the elevation of the intellectual and cultural authority of non-scientific worldviews.  But however serendipitous, the matter quite misses the point.  My argument proceeds on the basis of the view of sociopolitical emancipation as historical necessity, in a Hegelian sense.  What would it mean, say, to have one’s body of theories epistemically enriched in the sense that they now more reliably produce justified true beliefs, when epistemological reliabilism is fed back into science methodologically as an epistemic aim inspired by evolutionary biology and psychology? – only that we have successfully reinforced the status quo, ‘progressing’ in a dull Lakatosian vain.  While I do consider enrichment of this sort to be likely, it is merely a coincident to the final emancipatory cause.

Illegals.

They call us ‘illegal’ demonstrators from the very first step. Bylaw P-6, passed in Quebec during the massive student demonstrations of 2012, requires any organized form of protest to provide police with an itinerary. Students on the streets in 2015 have made the point most clear – a protest with an itinerary is called a parade.

The question of legality is not just so much empty rhetoric – it is a stratagem of war waging ideologues. Bodies pour into the streets by the thousands, and we are a loud voice. We are at once a spectacle of opposition (a manifestation of counter-ideology), and a material force. Calling a movement ‘illegal’ does not rob it of its material force, any more than bearing the mantle of Capitalo-parliamentary state-approved ‘legality’ adds to this force. All rhetoric attached to the question of legality amounts to a form of ideological oppression and attempted subordination by the state of the movement; it is first and foremost an ideological assault.

We are a parade if we are ‘legal’ – what is a parade but pure spectacle? As revolutionaries are made into court jesters, sanitized by the official histories, so too are mass movements transformed into parades. Material surrender is ideological suicide. Acquiescence to this safe ‘legalized’ form of opposition would make us all no more than a tolerable nuisance – an empty symbolic bourgeois gesture; a controlled burn; an illusory apparition of the ruling class as being open to receiving criticism from the oppressed layers of society. A jester is never a revolutionary, for he accepts the provisions offered to him by the King, and thus accepts the mythology of the divine right to rule. We cannot – we must not – be legalized. If at first we surrender the streets, we shall thereby surrender the stories of our struggle to sanitization by the official histories.

Keep it illegal to keep it strong. Like alcohol during prohibition, we’re dirty but desired. But we are attacked on all sides, beset by oppressive forces bursting over the bulwarks we built, like the ones in the middle of rue Rene Levesque built with toppled trash dumpsters and police barricades and steel fencing torn off the faces of roadside construction sites. The question of legality is ideological assault. The matter of illegality serves as justification for direct material oppression. We are illegals: subhuman, starving for punishment, breaking our teeth on nightsticks for social justice. The loudspeakers of the SPVM squad cars are harbingers of dystopian noise:

You are committing an offense – and we are ordering you to disperse and leave. Otherwise, we will have to intervene.

This marquee has been etched on our minds – who was there on Friday night who does not still feel the rattling of this robotic voice? If we are legal, we surrender the streets; materially we surrender. Conversely, illegality is an abject refusal. Materially, we refuse to disperse, and are met with brute physical force. Nobody needs reminding about the specific armaments deployed in the name of ‘keeping the peace’ (‘peace’ for whom? – for the bourgeois, naturally.)

As long as we are kept illegal, the ideological assault will be allowed to continue only at the periphery of the movement. Layers of society not yet sympathetic to our cause will be treated to empty rhetoric and reactionary narratives from bourgeois media outlets, placated by their societally reinforced ignorance. But many are sympathetic, and more are becoming so. We are not only students, but workers – even the police themselves, though the hour has not yet come when they awaken to this immediately obvious fact (nous avons tous vu l’image, le carré rouge qui pointe son arme à un carré rouge). Many layers in society are just beginning to awaken, or awaken anew to the reality of their own oppression. We are storytellers, poets of revolution and counterculture. Our best weapon against ideological assault is to guard and grow our material strength, always to strengthen for another day and never to surrender.