Stevphen — Guattari — The New Spaces of Freedom

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The New Spaces of Freedom
Félix Guattari
Montréal, November 1984
Translated by Arianna Bove and Noe Le Blanc
From New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty
We might refuse to resign ourselves to it, but we know for a fact that
both in the East and in the majority of the Third World rights and
liberties are subject to the discretionary powers of the political
forces in charge of the state. Yet we are not so ready to admit, and
often refuse to confront, the fact that they are equally threatened in
the West, in countries that like to call themselves ‘champions of the
free world’.
This hard question, so close to the skin and pregnant with dramatic
human implications, is hardly resolved if we remain at a level of
statements of principle. It would be impossible to fail to recognize
the fact that for a dozen years a whole bundle of rights and freedoms
and a whole series of spaces of freedom continued to lose ground in
Europe. If we consider what is happening to immigrants and the
distortions that the right to political asylum is undergoing in France
alone this fact is manifestly unequivocal. But the defeat stares us in
the face even when detached from mere narrow jurisprudence, when
considering the actual evolution of the ‘right’ to dispose of basic
material means of survival and labor for millions of people in Europe
(the unemployed, young and old people, the precarious); the ‘right to
difference’ for all kinds of minorities; and the ‘right’ to effective
democratic expression for the large majority of peoples. Militants
might object that the conflicts related to formal juridical freedoms
should not be treated on par with the conquest of new spaces of
freedom because only the latter is relevant to concrete struggles (to
be fair, this reaction is reminiscing of an era that has long gone).
Justice never kept out of the social fray (it never stood over and
above social struggles); democracy was always more or less
manipulated; there is nothing, no greatness, to be expected from the
realm of formal juridical freedom, whilst, on the contrary, everything
is still to be done when it comes to new spaces of freedom. As far as
I’m concerned, after taking an interest in the extradition cases and
political trials of Bifo, Klauss Croissant, Piperno, Pace, Francois
Pain, Toni Negri and others, I was forced to revise my opinion on the
importance of these supposedly formal freedoms. Today they seem to me
almost completely inseparable from other freedoms ‘on the ground’, to
speak like the ethnologists. Now more than ever we must refuse to
remain at the level of a global denunciation of bourgeois justice:
doing so would be formal indeed. The independence of the judiciary is
often really nothing but a decoy; instead of resigning to this and
returning to a mythology of spontaneity and the so-called ‘people’s
tribunals’, we should think of ways to make it actual. The
specialization of social functions and the division of labor are what
they are; besides, nothing would seem to justify any expectations of
deep changes in public opinion in the short or medium term; and there
is no way of hoping that organized societies will manage to do without
a judicial apparatus any time soon! This does not mean that we have to
accept it as it is, quite the opposite: it is crucial to redefine its
mode of development, its competences, its means, and its possible
articulations in a democratic environment… To do so struggles for
freedoms must also be given new instruments to take us forward:
– Ad hoc interventions in practical affaires where rights and freedoms
are undermined;
– Longer term activities, such as liaising with groups of lawyers,
magistrates, social workers and prisoners … in view of developing
alternative forms of systems of justice.
The struggles that defend the respect of the law and the offensive
struggles aimed at conquering new realms of freedom are complementary.
Both are set to become at least as important as trade union and
political struggles, and to influence them more and more. This is the
process that is apparently unfolding in France, with the growing role
played by organizations such as Amnesty International, the League of
Human Rights, France Terre d’Asile, the Cimade.
Despite the above premises we still cannot treat the evolution of
freedoms in Europe as something in itself separate from the context of
international tensions and world economic crises. But as soon as I
mention these two things a new question starts humming in my ears.
Should we regard these tensions and crises as causes of the weakening
of freedoms, or, inversely, as the outcome of the rise of
conservativism and reactionarism that followed the 1960s wave of
struggles for freedoms? What I’d like to demonstrate is that our
analysis of the tension between East and West and the world crisis
would gain considerable grounds if we reconsidered them from the
perspective of this question on freedoms.
I sometimes wonder whether in our societies, imprudently known as
‘post-industrial’, these freedoms are not destined to be irreversibly
eroded by some kind of global rise in the entropy of social control.
But this morose sociologism earns me nothing but days of depression!
On dispassionate reflection, I see no reason to blame this repression
on the proliferation of the mechanisms of information and
communication in the machineries of production and social life. No!
What distorts everything is something else! It is not techno-
scientific ‘progress’, but the inertia of outmoded social relations:
international relations between blocs and this permanent arms race
that sucks the blood out of the economy and anaesthetizes its spirits!
So I would be inclined to say that the international tension is
probably less the result of a fundamental antagonism between two
superpowers – as we are led to believe – than a means for them to
actually ‘discipline’ the planet. In short, two chief gendarmes hold
complementary roles, but not as in a puppet show, because here the
blows really hurt! So the overall tension of the system grows and the
hierarchical elements of its military, economic, social and cultural
wings become exacerbated. Up there, in the Olympus of the Gods of War,
much noise and many threats are made – as well as, unfortunately, many
very dangerous things too! – so that at the bottom, at all levels, the
flunkies are kept silent!
In this respect, the defense of individual and collective freedoms
never was a serious issue in the conflict-ridden relations between the
East and the West, and this is indicative. With proclamations and the
parading of great principles put aside, it becomes apparent how little
this issue weights on the important international ‘deals’ (President
Carter managed to ridicule himself before the American political class
by insisting more than was customary on this subject!). Western
leaders would easily accommodate themselves to the techniques of the
totalitarian bureaucracy of the Eastern block. And, under surface
appearances and behind the ideological and strategic hype they seem to
be carrying out similar policies and share the same set of objectives:
namely to control individuals and social groups more and more closely
and to normalize and integrate them, if possible facing no resistance
from them and without them even realizing it – making use of
Collective Infrastructures for their formation and ‘maintenance’, of
the media to model their thinking and imaginary, and (no doubt in the
future) of some sort of permanent computer radio control to allocate a
territorial residence and economic trajectory to each on of them. The
outcome is there, we can already see it! That is: a growing
segregation that generates ethnic, sexual and age discrimination,
greater freedom of action for the cast of bosses and managers, and
more subservience from the pawns at the foundations of the big
capitalist game. The decline of freedoms affecting more or less the
whole world is mainly due to the growth of more conservative and
functionalist conceptions of the world. These are reactionary but
always ready to seize the ‘progress’ of science and technique, to put
it at their service. We need to realize that this repression was only
made possible by the political conjunction of the western bourgeoisie,
‘socialist’ bureaucracies and the corrupt ‘elites’ of the Third World,
which together form a new figure of capitalism that I elsewhere
defined as ‘Integrated World Capitalism’.
The crisis and freedoms … Of course they are related! Economic anxiety
in itself weighs heavily on the spirits; it inhibits all desire for
contestation and can even encourage paradoxical results, such as the
shift of a fraction of the communist electorate towards Le Pen’s
National Front in France. But, even so, isn’t the presentation of this
problem in the mainstream mass media largely distorted? Is this crisis
weighing on our freedoms or, rather, is it collective passivity,
demoralization, disorientation and the lack of organization of
potentially innovative forces to leave the field open for a new ‘wild
capitalism’ to convert profit into socially devastating effects? On
the one hand, the term ‘crisis’ is particularly ill-suited to denote
the nature of the series of catastrophes that has been shaking the
world, and primarily the Third World, for the past ten years. On the
other hand, it would be completely illegitimate to circumscribe these
phenomena to the economic sphere alone. Hundreds of millions of human
beings are starving to death, billions of individuals are sinking into
misery and despair year after year, and this is presented and
explained to us as an economic problem that cannot be forecasted until
the end of the crisis! Nothing can be done about it! This crisis falls
from the sky; it comes and goes, like the hail of the Hurricane
Hortense! Only the omens – these famous and distinguished economists –
could possibly have something to say about it. But if there is a place
where absurdity turns into infamy, this is it! Because in the end,
what need would there be to associate industrial and economic
restructuring – applied on a world scale and engaged in the deepest
reorganization of the means of production and society – with such a
mess? We need a 180 degree turn in the way we think through these
problems, and urgently. The political takes precedence over the
economic, not the other way around! Even though under present
circumstances it would be difficult to assert that the political
manufactures the crisis from scratch – in so far as it produces
similar effects and catastrophic interactions that people no longer
control, for example, between economic devastations and environmental
disasters, or, in another realm, between the monetary system and the
oil market – there isn’t much more to be held responsible for the most
pernicious social effects. And the end of the crisis, or, if you
prefer, of this series of disasters, will either be political and
social or it won’t happen at all, and humanity will continue to make
her way towards who knows what last implosion! Where does Europe stand
in all this? Europe is often held up as a land of freedom and culture,
so its vocation ought to be to stabilize the relations between the
East and the West and initiate the promotion of a new international
order between the North and the South. Whilst it is true that its
German side recently started revealing all its interests in calming
things down, we are still very far from an autonomous and coherent
European policy. All the more so as France retreats into its
traditional role of the Don Quixote of the protection of Western
progress! In fact, Europe’s freedom to act reduces, like shagreen, as
it becomes more apparent that Europe is not going to emerge unscathed
from this huge attempt at restructuration of world capitalism.
Europe’s feet and hands remain tied to the economic and monetary
axiomatic strategy of the USA. More than ever, Europe is entangled in
what the technocrats claim to be nationalist and statist ‘archaisms’
and all sorts of ‘corporatism’. In order to develop a unitary movement
within the people whom it is meant to unite, the European Economic
Community has unearthed and deepened the very hatreds we thought had
died out for a long time, and to make matters worse the whole of its
Mediterranean flank slowly shifts towards an intermediary kind of
Third World status.
Freedom is a right, above all! But not a vested right, at least.
Concrete freedoms keep fluctuating along the path of power relations
according to whether they are renounced or reaffirmed. In this
respect, to avoid generalities and abstractions, it would be better to
talk about degrees of freedom, or, rather, about differential
coefficients of freedom. Human freedom has never existed all in one
piece. Even in the borderline case of the solitude of ivory towers,
freedom is only established in relation to others – starting from the
blocks of identity interjected in the self. In practice, freedoms only
unravel in relation to the rights established with close friends and
neighbors, in relation to the subordination of those who are in my
power, to the effects of intimidation and influence of the authorities
that dominate me and, finally, in relation to the rules, codes and
laws of different public domains. Just as the status of free citizen
was established on the background of generalized slavery in ancient
times, so do the freedoms of European white adults with a minimum
income at their disposal find their ‘standing’ on the ground of the
enslavement of the Third World today, both internally and externally.
That is to say, in France, for instance, the most elementary wish to
defend the rights of immigrants or protect the right to political
asylum, even if devoid of outdated political theories or emanating
from simple charity, could end up taking us very far because it puts
under question not only the respect of formal rights but a whole
conception of the world, of crucial axioms of segregation, racism,
withdrawal, ideology of security, and the perspective of a Europe of
police rather than a Europe of freedoms…
Respect of human rights in the East as in the West, in the North as in
the South; peace and disarmament imposed on states through new waves
of ‘pacifist demoralization’; the establishment, amongst the wealthy
Third World countries, of relations that share the goal of
contributing to the development of human potential: these could be the
main international axes of a new social practice for the emancipation
and conquest of spaces of freedoms. But these issues cannot feed into
a body of meaningful struggles unless those who wish to act on them in
practice appreciate the double nature of the obstacles that Integrated
World Capitalism opposes to their project, namely:
1) an objective adversity that is constantly evolving due to the
accelerated transformations of means of production and social relations;
2) a subjective stupefaction and a veritable industrial production of
individual and collective subjectivity, that ensures the most
formidable efficiency and obedience.
Before going any further I now wish to recall the conditions that
future militant actions and machines of struggle for peace and freedom
in all their forms need to be ready for. In my opinion – and I do not
claim to have an exhaustive definition and a proposal that is ‘ready
to go’ – we need to draw some lessons from the auspicious period of
the 1960s and the defeat that followed it. We were naïve,
disorganized, indiscriminate and well-informed, sometimes sectarian
and narrow-minded, but often visionaries and oriented towards the
future; obviously a future that would not resemble the image of our
dreams! But I am convinced that we are faced again with a set of
problems of method reminiscent of the ones of the struggles and
organization of those times, and some lessons can be drawn from
experience, the experiences to which some people sacrificed their best
years. I see these conditions as follows:
1) New social practices of liberation will not establish hierarchical
relations between themselves; their development will answer to a
principle of transversality that will enable them to be established by
‘traversing’, as a ‘rhizome’, heterogeneous social groups and
interests. The pitfalls to avoid are these:
a – The reconstitution of ‘vanguard’ and major state parties that
dictate their law and mould their collective desires in a way that
parallels – though formally antagonizes – that of a dominant system.
The inefficiency and pernicious character of this kind of dispositif
is no longer in need of demonstration;
b – The compartmentalization of militant practices and the singling
out and separation between practices with political objectives of
different scope, from the defense of sectarian interests to the
transformation of everyday life … and the separation between, on the
one hand, programmatic and theoretical reflection and, on the other
hand, an analytics of subjectivity of groups and individuals
concretely engaged in action, which is to be invented from scratch.
This character of transversality of new social practices – the refusal
of authoritarian disciplines, formal hierarchies, orders of priorities
decreed from above, and compulsory ideological references – should not
be seen in contradiction with the obviously inevitable, necessary and
desirable establishment of centers of decision that use the most
sophisticated technologies of communication and aim to maximum
efficaciousness if necessary. The whole question here is to promote
analytical collective procedures that allow for the dissociation of
the work of decision from the imaginary investments of power; these
only coincide in capitalist subjectivity because the latter lost its
dimensions of singularity and converted into what might be called an
Eros of equivalence (little does it matter the nature of my power,
since I dispose of a certain capital of abstract power).
2) One of the main goals of new social practices of liberation will be
the development of more than a simple protection: collective and/or
individual processes of singularization. These are meant to include
everything that confers to these initiatives a character of living
subjectivation and irreplaceable experience, that ‘is worth being
lived’, that ‘gives meaning to life’… After iron decades of Stalinism,
numerous returns to power of the social democrats – with the self same
scenario of compromise, spinelessness, impotence and defeat – and the
narrow minded and dishonest Boy Scout attitude of small groups,
militancy ended up being impregnated with a rancid smell of church
that has come to arouse a legitimate movement of rejection. Only its
reinvention of new themes that start from a dissident subjectivity
carried out by groups-subjects will make it possible to conquer again
the abandoned terrains currently left to the prefabricated
subjectivities of the media and Infrastructures of this new-look
capitalism. And here we reiterate the need to invent a collective
analytics of different forms of ‘engaged’ subjectivities. In this
respect, we do not start completely from scratch. We have much to
learn from the way the Greens in Germany or Solidarnosc in Poland have
successfully managed to build new forms of militant life. We also have
negative and inverse examples, such as the sectarianism of the Basque
military ETA or the monstrous terrorist and dogmatic deviations of the
Red Brigades in Italy that have inexorably led to the decapitation of
the movement of liberation that had indisputably been the richest and
most promising in Europe.
I repeat: the only means to avoid this deadly calamity is to provide
the means of an analytical management of the processes of
singularization or the ‘making dissidence’ of subjectivity.
3) These mutating militant machines for transversal and singularized
spaces of freedom will not have any claim to durability. This way,
they will come to terms with their intrinsic precariousness and the
need for their continuous renewal, supported by a long lasting social
movement of great scope.
This will lead them to forge new and large alliances that will make
them avoid their most serious infantile disease: a tenacious
propensity to experiencing oneself as a minority under siege. Here it
is a case of promoting a logic of multivalent alliances, that avoid
both the duplicitous combinations of power and the purist and
sectarian dynamics of the movements of the 1960s that led to its
definitive separation from the population en large. They will need to
be sufficiently transversal and open to be able to communicate with
social groups whose preoccupations, styles and points of view are very
remote from theirs. This will only be possible in so far as they will
take responsibility for their finitude and their singularity, and they
will free themselves from the perverse myth of the seizing of state
power by a vanguard party, without appeal or reservations.
Nobody will seize power in the name of the oppressed! Nobody will
confiscate freedoms in the name of freedom. The only acceptable
objective now is the seizing of society by society itself. The state!
That is another problem. One should not oppose it in a frontal way,
nor flirt with its degeneration to smoothen the way of tomorrow’s
socialism! In a sense, we have the state we deserve! By this I mean
that the state is what remains as the most abject form of power when
society has offloaded its collective responsibility. And time will not
win over this monstrous secretion by itself; it is primarily organized
practices that will enable society to disengage from the collective
infantilism to which the media and capitalist infrastructures have
condemned it. The state is no exterior monster that one needs to
either flee or subdue. It is, starting from ourselves, at the root of
our unconscious. We must ‘do with’ it. It is an incontrovertible fact
of our life and of our struggle.
Transversality, singularization, and new alliances; here are the three
ingredients that I would like to see poured profusely into the pot of
freedoms. Then we can see the famous ‘immaturity’ of Europe and its
well known ‘archaisms’ change their color. I dream of the day the
Basques, the clandestines of Ulster, the Greens of Germany, Scottish
and Welsh miners, immigrants, Polish pseudo-Catholics, Southern
Italians and the nameless packs of dogs who refuse to understand or
know anything that is offered to them will start screaming together:
‘Yes, we are all archaic and you can put your modernity where you
want!’ So the passivity and demoralization will turn into a will to
freedom and freedom into a material force that is able to change the
course of a nasty history.