sexta-feira, 14 de junho de 2013

The Marxian Reading of Capitalism through a Spinozist Conceptology

Posted by the Funambulist on March 24, 2013

The first article of this week will attempt to examine how Spinoza can supply a terminology, or rather, a conceptology to extend the sharp analysis of capitalism made by Karl Marx in the 19th century to a its neo-liberal version we have been experiencing for the last thirty years. In order to do so, I would use a particular chapter from the book Capitalisme, désir et servitude: Marx et Spinoza (Capitalism, desire and servitude, Marx and Spinoza) written by Frédéric Lordon and published by the always excellent publisher La Fabrique in 2010.

Through this book, F. Lordon depicts, among other things, the two important shifts of paradigms in capitalism that occurred since the publication of Das Kapital, in order for it to survive against the potentiality of a revolution prophetized by Marx when he was observing the continuous production of a discontented working class. The first shift of paradigm, often known as Fordism, occurred in the first part of the 20th century and consisted in a neat amplification of the production rhythm associated with the integration of the working class itself in the mass consumption of their own product. The second shift of paradigm, closer to us, examined how the working class (which also shifted for a big part of it, from the industry to the realms of services) could gain in productivity by integrating it to an ideology of “self-accomplishment” that could apparently relate to the Spinozist idea of joyful affect (for a very basic introduction to his concepts, you can read my text Architectures of Joy from 2010). For Spinoza, the servitude is anyway universal as all our acts are determined by the sum of circumstances that caused it (much more about that in a upcoming article), but we can nevertheless increase our power (potentia in latin, more on that soon too) by acquiring the knowledge of the causes of our behavior. As we know too well, strategies of inducing do not allow the subject to understand the context of his decisions better than an assembly line worker in the beginning of the 20th century and therefore force it to remain within the sad affects.

So far, I was evoking the book in its entirety but in order to be precise, I would like to examine more particularly a specific chapter entitled Alors le (ré)communisme! The neologism of (ré)communisme is a French play on word insisting on the idea of revisiting communism, but more importantly to oppose to the respublica (the public thing) the rescommuna (the common thing) as two different models of society. It is interesting to observe how F. Lordon is slowly introducing this new model: (the original French version is at the end of the article, the translation is mine but since the text is difficult to translate for the multiple meanings each important word carries, I left the word used by him in parenthesis)

The starting point was the following: someone wants to do something that needs several people to achieve. This community of action is in its very essence a political community if we attribute the political status to any situation that composes powers (puissance) of action […]. The question is then about the constitution of this entrepreneurial political community. This implies the genetic dimension of the mechanisms for which the community emerges, as well as the constitutionality of the formal as the formal layouts (agencements) that rule its function once it is assembled. What are the desirable relationships for which a company (entreprise) can be constituted when it is conceived as an association of powers (puissance) of action?

While condemning the relationships of servitude created by capitalism, F. Lordon also introduces a form of doubt in the sacred equality enforced by communism in its orthodox version (presented as the only alternative to capitalism for many years). His discourse is, of course, mostly focused on the realms of companies; however, in order to make his point clearer, he uses the example of the creative process of a theater play (from here, I translated the ambivalent term of entreprise (both company and project as the same time) with the English word of enterprise that needs to be understood with those two simultaneous meanings as well):

A playwright comes with an amazing text: who would deny that his contribution is not of the same nature than the one of the electricians and the costume designers? who would contest his status of power (puissance) authentically creative? Yet, he needs electricians and costume designers so that the show could occur and that his genius text could be transmitted to the public. The problem is never tackled this way as the immediate solution brought by the wage relationship (rapport) in the form of a supplied hired manpower made it forgotten as a problem. To find back its meaning, we need to achieve the thought experiment that consists in imagining which kind of political arrangements would emerge so that the collective enterprise would be withdrawn from the structure of wage relationship (rapport).
If the communist idea is essentially related to the notion of equality, the question is then to wonder what can be the nature of equality in the context of a substantial, recognized inequality of contributions, and how not to deny the asymmetry of these situations in which the strength of an initial proposition makes the other contributions appear as auxiliary. Here is the communist equation: which form of equality can we realize in the context of the division of work and its heaviest inheritance, the fundamental separation between ‘conception’ and ‘execution’?

This latter point is important as it bring back Marx’s contempt for the strict division of work as it was invented by the mass production of goods. F. Lordon later insists that, even in relatively ‘democratic’ working environments, it is rare to see a person sometimes in charge of the lights and some other times in charge of the play-writing. There is no real redistribution of the roles depending on the desire and inspiration of each person involved in the enterprise.

If the complete solution of the communist equation consists in a restructuration of the division of desire that shares the chances of conception – and symmetrically the execution tasks too – nobody indicated better than Etienne Balibar its horizon (Spinozist as well as Marxian) : “ To be as many as possible to think the most as possible.”

Finally, F. Lordon introduces his model of (ré)communisme as an alternative based on the principle above. He then describes an enterprise that would adopt this model as a working paradigm. Such a description can make us recall the Argentinean fábricas recuperadas, factories took over by their workers when their owner wanted to liquidate them after the 2001 economical crisis. The new system set-up by the workers involves (in addition of a unique salary) a democratic process of decision making.

Since they put a part of their life in an enterprise, its members can only exit the enrolment relationship (rapport), born from a monarchical constitution (the imperium of the master-desire), by sharing, beyond the object itself, the entire control of the conditions of the collective pursuit of the object, and finally by affirming the indisputable right to be fully associated to what they are affected by. What the productive enterprise has to fabricate, in which quantity, with which rhythm, which volume, which wage structure, which reattribution for the surplus, how it will accommodate variations to its environment: none of these things can escape to the common deliberation since they all have common consequences. The very simple recommunist (récommuniste) principle is thus that what affects everyone should be the object of everyone, i.e. constitutionally and equally debated by everyone.

As a conclusion, we might want to go back from where we left, the philosophy of Spinoza, by using its Deleuzian interpretation to explain the notion of freedom: There is no freedom, only forms of liberation. In other words, if we follow the writings of Spinoza absolutely (i.e. as diagrams we might say), one is never free as (s)he is subjected to a form of determinism, however (and maybe in a less orthodoxic reading) one can get involved in processes of liberation by participating to a power (potentia again) that is ‘bigger’ than him or her. This power is called God (i.e. nature or the world to put it maybe too simply) in Spinoza’s philosophy. However, in his political project, which is in complete agreement with his philosophy but founds itself on more pragmatic bases, this ‘bigger’ power can be more simply the harmonious composition of a collective enterprise. In F. Lordon’s interpretation of the latter, it might not be functioning in a strict equality, but rather in the shared association of skills and desires, the regular shift of roles, and the systematic access to the decision process that makes this enterprise exist and operate.

Original French version of the excerpts:

Frédéric Lordon, Capitalisme, désir et servitude: Marx et Spinoza, Paris: La Fabrique, 2010.

[…] le point de départ était ceci : quelqu’un a envie de faire quelque chose qui nécessite d’être plusieurs. Cette communauté d’action est ipso facto une communauté politique si on donne le nom de politique à toute situation de composition de puissance d’agir […]. La question est alors celle de la constitution de cette communauté politique d’entreprise, aussi bien au sens génétique des mécanismes par lesquels la communauté vient à se former qu’au sens « constitutionnel » des agencements formels qui en régissent les fonctionnements une fois assemblée. Quels sont les rapports désirables sous lesquels peut se constituer une entreprise conçue très généralement comme un concours de puissances d’agir ? P164

Un dramaturge survient porteur d’un texte inouï: qui niera que cette contribution-là n’est pas de même nature que celle des éclairagistes et des costumiers? qui lui contestera son caractère de puissance authentiquement créatrice ? Et pourtant il faut des éclairagistes et des costumiers pour que le spectacle ait lieu et que le texte génial soit porte à la connaissance du public. Le problème n’est jamais posé en ces termes car la solution « immédiate » que lui apporte le rapport salarial sous la forme d’une fourniture de main-d’œuvre employée a fini par le faire oublier comme problème. En retrouver le sens suppose l’expérience de pensée consistant à imaginer quels arrangements politiques devraient se former pour que l’entreprise collective voie le jour retirées des structures du rapport salarial. P166

Si l’idée communiste a essentiellement à voir avec l’égalité, la question se pose alors de savoir quelle peut être la nature de l’égalité accompagnant une inégalité substantielle, reconnue, des contributions, et qui ne nie pas l’asymétrie de ces situations où la force d’une proposition initiale donne objectivement aux autres contributions un caractère auxiliaire. Voilà donc l’équation communiste : quelle forme d’égalité réaliser sous le legs de la division du travail ? – et notamment du plus pesant de ses héritages, à savoir la séparation princeps de la « conception » et de l’ « exécution ». P167

Si la solution complète de l’équation communiste consiste en une restructuration de la division du désir qui repartage les chances de conception – et symétriquement redistribue les taches d’exécution […] – nul n’en a indiqué comme Etienne Balibar l’horizon (spinoziste autant que marxien) : « Etre le plus nombreux à penser le plus possible. » P168

Puisque c’est une part de leur vie qu’ils mettent en commun dans une entreprise, ses membres ne sortent du rapport d’enrôlement, dual par construction d’une constitution de type monarchique (l’imperium du désir-maitre), qu’en partageant au-delà de l’objet, l’entière maitrise des conditions de la poursuite collective de l’objet, et finalement en affirmant le droit irréfragable d’être pleinement associés à ce qui les concerne. Ce que l’entreprise (productive) doit fabriquer, en quelle quantité, à quelle cadence, avec quel volume d’emploi et quelle structure de rémunérations, sous quelle clé de réaffectation des surplus, comment elle accommodera les variations de son environnement : aucune de ces choses ne peut par principe échapper a la délibération commune puisqu’elles ont toutes des conséquences communes. Le simplissime principe récommuniste est donc que ce qui affecte tous doit être l’objet de tous – c’est le mot même de récommune qui le dit ! -, c’est-à-dire constitutionnellement et égalitairement débattu par tous. P170

# SPINOZA /// Episode 2: Spinozist Determinism or how Caesar could have not not crossed the Rubicon
Posted by The Funambulist on March 25, 2013

I am intending to conclude this ‘Spinoza week’ with some architectural applications of this philosophy; however, it is probably useful to dedicate the first articles to compose a sort of Spinozist ‘toolbox’ in order to understand those examples with more accuracy. This is obviously an assignment that I can do only with clear limitations as I am neither a philosopher nor a specialist of Spinoza (or anything else for that matter!); nevertheless, I will try to do my best to explain the bases of a few of his major concepts.

The first of these concepts is the one of determinism, although it would be an anachronism to attribute this word to the Spinozist terminology as it appeared later in history. The idea behind the word is however the same, as Spinoza is convinced that nothing that happens could have possibly happen differently as each of these events, as ‘minor’ it might be, constitutes the result of the sum of circumstances that occurred in the world since the latter started. There is no theology in this philosophy, or at least, not a transcendental one in which destiny or God have planned a path for the world; this vision has more to do with a logical holistic chain of events. We can say that this chain is following the law of physics, although the latter are of course an incomplete human interpretation (one might say decoding) of the former.

As written in the last article, there is therefore no freedom possible in the philosophy of Spinoza: we are condemned to be the object of the necessity of the world events just like his famous example in the Ethics, a stone for which no human would doubt of the inability to act upon its will:

Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavouring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.
[...] an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid child thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the garrulous, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse.

At that point, one might interprets the philosophy of Spinoza as an essentially pessimistic one as we are just carried by the stream of the causes that determines us. Spinoza is however known as the philosopher of joy, which might lead us to wonder if there would not be a more positive way to interpret his work. What determinism allows us is to get rid once and for all of every form of regrets or remorse as worlds which would include different versions of history (one might think of Leibniz’s pyramid) are irrelevant to imagine as such a different version would imply a change in the totality of the sum of events since the beginning of the world (beginning that might even be an illusion as well). To go back to the example of Leibniz who, to some extents, seems to precede Spinoza even though he does not, if Julius Caesar is crossing the Rubicon, it is not because God always chooses the most perfect world, but more simply because the ensemble of causes that preceded this historical event led to it with no other possible outcome.

It would be too easy to think that, in addition of forbidding regrets, Spinoza’s philosophy also withdraw the sense of responsibility that anybody has to own towards his or her actions. While regret consists in a passive interpretation of the past manifested by the impossible wish that things should have happened differently, responsibility corresponds to the fact that we, as individual, cannot escape from acting upon our lives (in other words, not doing anything would not extract us from determinism) and therefore should assume our responsibilities based on those actions and the illusion of free will.

Philosophically, what that means is that, even though we can never be free in the Cartesian sense, we can adopt an active attitude towards the determinist stream by understanding (always in a limited way) the causes that lead us to act the way we do. Politically and judicially (i.e. in a more pragmatic imperfect model), this philosophy consists in the acknowledgement of the social context that conditions any event. Once again, the responsibility is the same but it helps us to address those same conditions as catalysts of behaviors and therefore react to them.

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