Arran James in a previous post in response to Slavoj Zizek’s question ““The big question today is how to organise to act globally, at an immense international level, without regressing to some authoritarian rule.” – responds:
Zizek’s question at the end there, on the need to organise without authoritarianism, is of course the important one. I have been engaged elsewhere in talking about this question, roughly, and find it infuriating that people who claim to want to re-think “how to organise” maintain automatic positions. ‘No to electoral politics! No to working with Leninists!’- but then what are you organsing? You’re own theoretico-practical cul-de-sac? Let us rethink things, but not if it means questioning any of our assumptions! I understand the reasons to be anti-Leninism and so on, the historical reasons, the ideological ones, but to make use of things, to pick up what lies at hand…must the question always revolve around questions of reformism and revolutionism, of the necessity of the former and the poverty of the latter? I don’t even think electoral politics are pertinent to the mass of people anymore, that little game is over, and, likewise, do reform/revolution make much sense to us in a time when the majority of political actions are defensive, when the majority of would-be revolutionaries only know of revolutions from textbooks and television screens? (And among these I of course include myself!)
It’s not something one can force, either. While reading through some of Barardi he comes to a point when over a hundred thousand people came to Bologna in 1977. He says everyone was waiting for the “word” to begin, but no word ever came. I kept thinking, Why? Why does it always take one person, someone you wouldn’t really expect, the unknown X factor, to step up to the plate and start it all? Without leadership the crowd, the mass, is just that: lost, unable to act, unable to do for themselves what they know in their hearts must be done. Why do we always need confirmation first? Why have we bought into this need for some authority to tell us: It’s alright, I understand, you can begin now. You don’t have to fear anything but fear itself. Sure many of you may die, but we shall win through; for what we are doing has the force of truth in it.” Most people, sadly, are followers rather than leaders and cannot do for themselves what they should. It always comes down to: Buts… but I’m just one person, what can I do to make a difference? How can I begin? What’s to be done?” Maybe it comes down to critical mass… a sort of collective psychic trauma that spurs the mass into a collective awakening that then gets it all going… some event that wounds us to the core and forces us to rethink everything that we are or could be. One could puzzle over this for years. Psychologists have spent their lives trying to understand mass movements and why some succeed and others fail. But in the end there is no magic bullet. It’s something to do with Time…. even kairos – the right time… the moment when all the threads come together that offer the solution we’ve all been seeking to the tension of our moment.
Like now in our time. We all know that things cannot go on as they are going on the planet. Yet, we all sit back and wait, ponder, wonder: when will people wake up, when will they realize that our planet is dying and we with it? Why want they do something? Why do they allow the oligarchs of the world, the profiteers to enslave us in their capitalistic bullshit system? Why do we sit idly by and allow the devastation across the planet to go on? Are we all that lazy? Even in this philosophical world that I watch everyday: I see all of you going about your business, day by day, academic meetings, journals, etc. as if everything is just some parade of academic one-upmanship. There seems to be no cohesiveness, nothing gels, there is no focus, no central message or cause; not even, in Zizek’s sense, of a lost cause to be restored. Why? Why is it that philosophers sit on the sidelines (of course I know that many of them have gone down into the streets in the Occupy movement, etc.). Yet, there is nothing that unites us under one umbrella. And most seem to speak academic prose to other academics rather than simplifying their message for the masses. Without a spokesman to bring that message to the greater world all we accomplish is the hollow cries of despair. We echo only ideas to ourselves, honing down our so to speak epistemic and ontological arguments that in the long run will die just like the icebergs at the two poles. Sometimes, I, too, feel that despair and pessimism that Zizek speaks of, yet I also allow for the optimism and hope of change, too. “Everything under heaven is chaos: the situation is excellent,” Mao said. Yes, we are in a transformation moment, the generation that must change, must act, must make the first move out of this chaos and into a viable future. Sometimes it infuriates me that maybe Zizek might be right, maybe we do need a Leftwing Thatcher, someone strong enough to pull people together and give them direction, show them the way out of their lethargic carpology. But is that to admit defeat, to admit that the collective world of our planet cannot wake up? Why do we sleepwalk through existence? Does anyone out there have an answer to our moment? To why we are not changing the world, and instead are always, and only talking about change rather that doing it?
Marx once stated the obvious: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” (Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach) Will we continue interpreting or shall we begin changing it? It was Lenin himself in What is to be done? who asked himself how it is possible to organize collective action, and how the activity of intellectuals can become effective. For Lenin intellectuals are not a social class; they have no specific social interests to uphold. He saw them as parasites, intermediaries and organizers of a revolutionary consciousness descending from philosophical thought. On the other hand he saw the workers as bearers of social energy and interests, who would through the enactment of revolutionary politics and the party incarnate the and transmit the philosophical legacy. It was Gramsci who saw an organic relation between the intellectual and the workers. But in our age the intellectual is no longer separate, no longer independent of the productive apparatuses in which both worker and production come together. No. Now the intellectual is himself a part of the actual digital productive apparatus, what Paul Virno termed a ‘mass intellectual’; a term denoting the formation of social subjectivation that ties the intellectual to the mass standardization of knowledge in our digitalized economy.
Franco Berardi, along with other thinkers in Italy (Mario Tronti, Raniero Panzieri, Toni Negri, Romano Alquati) have formulated a new form of intellectual work, the cybertariat, the compositional reformulation of political organization in terms of social composition. As he remarks, “compositionism abandons the Leninist notions of the Party as a collective intellectual and leaves open the notion of the intellectual itself, by proposing a re-examination of the Marxian concept of General-Intellect.” (64 precarious rhapsody) Berardi tells us that the age of Lenin is finished, that the Party must leave the stage, that even Gramsci’s organic intellectual is a confusion now that ideology is fragmented and in disarray. What counts now he tells us is the “formation of a new social concatenation, which we can call the cognitariat, representing the social subjectivity of the General Intellect.” (65) What Berardi means by this he tells us is that we are in the digital age, that cognitive labor flows within the connective linkages of our global networks:
The infinitely fragmented mosaic of cognitive labor becomes a fluid process within a universal telematics network, and thus the shape of labor and capital are redefined. Capital becomes the generalized semiotic flux that runs through the veins of the global economy, while labor becomes the constant activation of the intelligence of countless semiotic agents linked to one another. (73)
Berardi mentions several other thinkers who have contributed to this resurgence in Marxian General Intellect theory productive of the notion of the new intellectuals as a Cybertariat: Paolo Virno, Christian Marazzi, Carlo Formenti and Maurizio Lazzarato: all have emphasized the interaction between labor and language and the new medias.
Like many I, too, have been affected by the internet. If it had not been for the internet I would probably still be ignorant of most of the intellectuals or cyberiats around the planet. This sense of community has arisen from the labor of millions who have interacted across physical and political barriers that otherwise would not have come about. Over the past 18 or so years we’ve seen a collective process going on that most people still see antagonistically. I’m reminded of many of the academic philosophers who castigate blogging as beneath them, as something that has nothing to do with philosophy. So be it. Hell, I’m no philosopher, I’m just one human thinking… and, yet, if it were not for the internet my thinking would depend on older technologies, slower processes, an age of machines and industrial bookish mentality that is of no pertinence now… now is the age of the Cyberiatarians, the new Intellectuals of the Collective InfoSphere. May they wake up and start the change necessary to bring people around the globe together as part of something worth doing: the future is now. Let us begin.