A meme from the Intergalactic Workers' League - Posadist Facebook page. February 23, 2020.

A meme from the Intergalactic Workers' League - Posadist Facebook page. February 23, 2020.

 

Culture and Revolution: Toward a Leftist Politics of Oscillation (Part 2 of 2)

Day 154: Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Waiting for the Future 

‘We are all waiting for something,’ seems to be a common refrain in these neo-Posadist online forums — nuclear war, climate collapse, a viral pandemic, radical justice arriving from the future. We might just as well wait for socialist aliens, a revolutionary vanguard that stands outside of history to arrive in flying saucers and liberate Terran workers. The Neo-Posadism on “Leftbook,” the plethora of left-wing pages and groups on Facebook, is a much-needed diagnosis of the inertia of contemporary politics and culture, referred to as “the slow cancellation of the future” by Franco "Bifo" Berardi. This is seen in the absence of a truly novel emancipatory project on behalf of what the neo-Posadists like to call “The Terrestrial Left,” and the lack of a popular culture which isn’t a rehashing of a past decade. As Mark Fisher argues in Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, you can choose any contemporary music, transport it back in time, and have someone in the nineties listen to it. What would shock them is how recognizable the sound is, while if you have someone listen to Nineties Jungle for example in the Eighties, it will sound completely alien to them.

‘We are all waiting for something,’ seems to be a common refrain in these neo-Posadist online forums — nuclear war, climate collapse, a viral pandemic, radical justice arriving from the future. We might just as well wait for socialist aliens, a revolutionary vanguard that stands outside of history to arrive in flying saucers and liberate Terran workers.Contemporary culture seems to be cryogenically frozen, haunted by a formal nostalgia that grips both the right and the left -- for the former, a nostalgia for a glorious past, and for the latter, a nostalgia for a time when the future was full of utopian possibilities, or as Fisher put it “a nostalgia for the future.” So, what do we do while waiting for the great historical event to arrive from the future — the revolution that will radically restructure our contemporary world? The answer is found in the neo-Posadist amendment of Karl Marx’s famous 1852 quote from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, “history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce and a third time as Live Action Role Play,” in pitch-perfect pastiche. Even in the original quote Marx was criticizing Napoleon III for clumsily mimicking his uncle Napoleon I. The contemporary left’s mimicry of bygone forms of collective action is what the neo-Posadists are partly critiquing as a kind of “Live Action Role Play” that distracts from the necessity of a truly emancipatory project, and ignores the changed material conditions. So, what is Live Action Role Play? It is when grown men, yes, they are mostly men, dress up as medieval knights, colonial redcoats, or 1776 revolutionaries to reenact a historical battle in an empty field somewhere in Southern England, the American Midwest or anywhere in the world that allows or encourages such a display to occur. You can see the keffiyeh, in some contexts, suffering some form of historical rehashing itself, struggling to remain a revolutionary symbol as it resists appropriation by self-fashioned revolutionaries as a cosplay item.

Contemporary culture seems to be cryogenically frozen, haunted by a formal nostalgia that grips both the right and the left -- for the former, a nostalgia for a glorious past, and for the latter, a nostalgia for a time when the future was full of utopian possibilities, or as Fisher put it “a nostalgia for the future.”
Accelerationism, ‘Folk Politics’ and the Nonhuman Vanguard

“Left-Accelerationists” Nick Srnicek and Alex William, who have now dropped the accelerationist title as it was never meant to be self-applied in the first place, call these shortcomings on behalf of the contemporary left “folk politics” in Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (2015). They go on defining it in the following manner: “Under the sway of folk-political thinking, the most recent cycle of struggles has involved the fetishisation of local spaces, immediate actions, transient gestures, and particularisms of all kinds. Rather than undertake the difficult labour of expanding and consolidating gains, this form of politics has focused on building bunkers to resist the encroachments of global neoliberalism. In so doing, it has become a politics of defence, incapable of articulating or building a new world.” An interesting but rather limited critique of our contemporary impasse. Mark Fisher refers to a similar problem and dubs it “neo-anarchism.” However, he substantiates his claim with a key nuance, in order not to throw the baby out with the bathwater: “[by] neo-anarchists I definitely do not mean anarchists or syndicalists involved in actual workplace organisation [...] I mean, rather, those who identify as anarchists but whose involvement in politics extends little beyond student protests and occupations, and commenting on Twitter.” I think this clarification is extremely important, and one should add that “neo-anarchism” or “folk politics” do not extend to Indigenous activism and black and brown queer organizing. Fisher clarifies it further and ends his paragraph with “neo-anarchists usually come from a petit-bourgeois background, if not from somewhere even more class-privileged.”

Resistance to Capitalism itself seems to be in a cryogenic freeze according to the neo-Posadists and “Left-Accelerationists” in the sense that it is “incapable of articulating or building a new world,” as it is only able to manifest itself as a politics of defense. What I find most interesting, however, is the emphasis by both groups on a nonhuman agent of history, whether in the form of an extraterrestrial force or technology with the utopian premise of full automation liberating the global workforce. Aren’t we also often assigning that role to Climate Change, or more recently to the Coronavirus? African-American critic and artist Aria Dean rejects this idea of the nonhuman as revolutionary subject, arguing that the nonhuman revolutionary subject is none other than the black bodies that have been denied their humanity for most of Modernity. 

What I find most interesting, however, is the emphasis by both groups on a nonhuman agent of history, whether in the form of an extraterrestrial force or technology with the utopian premise of full automation liberating the global workforce. Aren’t we also often assigning that role to Climate Change, or more recently to the Coronavirus? African-American critic and artist Aria Dean rejects this idea of the nonhuman as revolutionary subject, arguing that the nonhuman revolutionary subject is none other than the black bodies that have been denied their humanity for most of Modernity.
A Return to (a) Politics... of Oscillation

As far as the “Left-Accelerationists” and neo-Posadists, critics of contemporary praxis, are concerned, the generation that has come of age after the so-called “end of history” — after the end of the Cold War — has been role-playing as historical radicals. They have been appropriating past revolutionary forms while generating a revolutionary culture that either demands participation in the system or reacts to it through mere protest, rather than attempting to radically restructure it. They argue that the point, however, is not to stop playing but rather to play a different game -- one that demands a return to history, rejects our collective failure to imagine a truly novel emancipatory project, requires patience, and channels the utopian potential of the meme but without the incessant need of the libidinal and instant gratification that comes with it.

An oscillation between the two political formations is necessary: the first consists of a long-term, vertical planning that isn’t afraid of imagining a radical future, and the second consists of a more localized, horizontal organization. The former might be able to deal with cataclysmic events, like climate catastrophe and mass displacement, while making sure that safety nets are kept in place. Meanwhile, the latter keeps the juggernaut in check, and prevents it from swallowing society whole.
Both top-down world-building and local resistance have had shortcomings. Therefore, I argue that an oscillation between the two political formations is necessary: the first consists of a long-term, vertical planning that isn’t afraid of imagining a radical future, and the second consists of a more localized, horizontal organization. The former might be able to deal with cataclysmic events, like climate catastrophe and mass displacement, while making sure that safety nets are kept in place. Meanwhile, the latter keeps the juggernaut in check, and prevents it from swallowing society whole. A peculiar answer to this impasse is found in a rather obscure art movement. Relatively obscure now that it has been picked up by actor and “meme artist” Shia LaBeouf to help him stage his semi-public performances starting with the now infamous #IAMSORRY. The movement’s self-proclaimed Metamodernist Manifesto can help us envision a synthesis between the two opposing forms of left politics. The manifesto’s third entry reads: “Movement shall henceforth be enabled by way of an oscillation between positions, with diametrically opposed ideas operating like the pulsating polarities of a colossal electric machine, propelling the world into action.” But that’s for another time.