Violent Machinations: Capital & Revolution

“The eternal absolute is the immobile point of reference around which temporal figurations circulate, their presupposition; however, precisely as such, it is posited by these temporal figurations, since it does not preexist them: it emerges in the gap between the first and the second”[1]. Zizek, in conceptualising the relation between the virtual and its actualisation, shows how the requirement of the ideological (symbolic) presupposes the proposition of the (un)attainable ideal. The progressivisation of history in its various guises follows this procedure, positing the objet petit a as the ultimate desire while also then sublimating this desire into a desire for the desire itself. From the virtual desire of utopia (“the utopic attempt to remove struggle is simply the attempt to instantiate a devalued mechanism of meaning”[2]) there emerges the actualisation of a fundamentalism to instantiate the ideological desire. The struggle is no longer neutered, instead becoming the primary locus of violent action against prevailing power.

Such a concept takes revolutionary struggle beyond the straitjacket of ideologically-bordered praxeology and into the “inhuman” realm. In this, the revolutionary event opens the chasm of human potentiality, redefining its very nature through this inversion of human to inhuman. Through criticising Stavrakakis, Zizek shows that such an evental opening is not conceivable in the purely politically possible, through its construction via multiple pathways of anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist actions. Whether in the form of populism or decentralised activity, neither capture the opening of possibility that the revolutionary event or the violent act perpetrate.

Stavrakakis, like many within post-Soviet left-wing ideologies, attempts to conceive the jouissance of struggle at the limits of democratic praxis, “neither the phallic enjoyment of power nor the utopia of the incestuous full enjoyment, but a non-phallic (non-all) partial enjoyment”[3]. The centrality of the non-all is such that agonistic politics is the positive lack, an a-centred centre without ideological outbreak. Such a democratic lack doesn’t actually constrain such ideological outbreaks or fundamentalisms except through its own sublimation within a coercive meta-framework. It must either rely on the development of a Heideggerian authenticity of the democratic, making democracy part of everyday practice (thus attempting to repeat the myth of the Athenian polis) or put above itself a sensorial layer of independent governance logics. “We leave little traces of ourselves as we march through the sensor cloud, traces of our presence, our attention, our interests, the biological specificity of our person, and the risk and reward that we represent to the different Cloud polities here ‘sensing like a state’”[4].

Sensor clouds then are the true seat of power, as they set the delineations of the possible. Contrasting with Zizek’s definition of the event, the sensor is the mechanism of sublimation. In the case of markets, it is the ordering mechanisms of law and the first principles of regulatory authority that produce market power, not the capacity for production or consumption. For democracy, the agonistic mechanics of “radical democracy” are then another layer of control amongst a sensorial array, alongside other ideological power structures (medical, educational, security, scientific, etc.) that order the epistemological divisions of a society. Even if the antagonism of democratic conflict could be expanded to these other domains, there is nothing to prevent the development of restrictive definitions of expertise and credentialism re-emerging, thus repeating the very system of existing democracy that Stavrakakis’s radical critique is meant to prevent.

As a result, a cornucopia of various existing practices are strained through an ambiguously-defined radical democracy that encompass the various requirements for a post-capitalist praxis. “What then follows is a series of examples of how ‘political theorists and analysts, economists, and active citizens – some of them directly inspired by Lacanian theory – are currently trying to put this radical democratic orientation to work in a multitude of empirical contexts”[5]. Writers such as Kevin Carson and Hardt & Negri are also guilty of this listing of the alternatives, conveniently removing them from their initial context and the struggles that created/sustained them, providing a readymade template from which a smorgasbord of potentials are presented. In lacking the requirement of an ideological re-foundation, they sidestep the necessary work of violent and persistent struggle which in many cases undergirds democratic movements, whether in their general form of trade unions, social movements or temporary zones or in the specific cases of the Zapatista movement or the Landless Workers’ Movement.

The ambiguous definition that a-centres this democratic movement(s) becomes both its strength and weakness. It is strong in that it makes itself anti-fragile, never becoming reliant on one ideological edifice but instead popping up in various contexts. It is weak as it never moves beyond the position of contextual struggle. Zizek criticises populism as an impotent system for political struggle as it always defines its needs and demands via the intermediary of its opposition. It is against whatever the establishment or elite is for. Similarly, the variety of radical democratic movements simply becomes an apolitical multiplicity, a vast faceless network entirely dependent on the conditions of crisis and the weakness of its opponent for sustenance. Think of the ebbs and flows of cooperative production movements in Argentina or Italy. They rose as the hegemonic regime weakened or retreated from their specific domain, and then fell as that regime recovered.

Going back to the event, here we see a different mechanism for revolutionary potential. From the machinations of revolutions, a great vulgation occurs as chasms are opened up and the primary economic and political struggles within the revolutionary context are torn asunder, allowing for the purity of violent machinations that exceed the control of any authority. This evental chasm is where revolutionary violence is at its most (re)foundational, as it targets not only the front-facing structures of power but the entire edifice of social control. The French Revolution redefined the contours of potentiality, destroying aristocratic moorings and regal authority as well as reclassifying the urban and rural through the creation of new political districts and representational systems. The Russian Revolution prioritised the worker as the central unit of politics, moving away from aristocratic and peasantry-based understandings of societal functioning. Even the American Revolution after the defeat of the British presented a decentralised, yeoman-based system of governance (through the Articles of Confederation) that attempted remove the vestiges of centralised authority and prevent the emergence of a governing aristocracy.

However what all these have in common is there failure. None in the long term have seriously challenged the centrality of capital as the primary mechanism of power (that sensorial layer), being subsumed into its wider logics as the ideologies of individualism and rights have been integrated. Zizek counters that it is not their failure that should be all encompassing when these are analysed, but the evental possibilities they opened up through their inversion of the society in their contexts. The Cultural Revolution or the Stalinist terror both presented the brutality of chaotic bureaucratisation and the potential for true societal inversion as the bureaucratic structures which undergirded these Communist regimes were themselves presented with the violent machinations that their ideological currents originally worked through. Through a bureaucratic violence (a virtual violence in the sense that its actualisation was strained through nonsensical propaganda, what Zizek aptly described in his analysis of Kremlinology and the associated language of bureaucratic intrigue and elite games) that aimed toward the centralisation and homogenisation of power emerged dynamics that ran beyond it. Through Mao’s attempt at shunting the aspirations of certain party members, Mao’s revolutionaries very much inverted every governing logic, from the family to cultural traditions, so much so that the very governability of China was under threat as Mao’s revolution threatened to overrun him. It is in these what if moments where the evental potential emerges. The what if of these revolutions and violence’s is that of true re-foundation that is a genuine new. It means making the event move beyond itself into the hegemonic realm of a new governing logic, one of systemic struggle that truly unsettles historicity and expands the potential for inhuman experimentation.

Revolutionary terror then is the nature of the entropic breakdown of institutionalisation, with their re-founding requiring truly anti-systemic properties that will always have the potential to fail. The violent machinations unleashed mirror in many ways the processes of capital (as per Marx’s dictum) in their mechanisms of primitive accumulation and the growth of constant capital. The former in particular is the imposition of the societal inversion through the violence of terror. The enclosure of the commons and colonial expansion destroyed the traditional structures of societal organisation, with property relations rewritten as the requirements of a new division of labour and the growth of an urban working class meant the sublimation of any existing alternate power structures and ideologies. Silvia Federici documents this in Caliban and the Witch, noting how capitalist relations instantiated the domination of money relations and the destruction of alternative economic logics as inhabited by the guild classes in trading cities and the reciprocal exchange systems of “tribal” societies.

In the production of constant capital, these logics are extended through further centralisation and rationalisation. The expansion of techno-capital complexes are witnessable at the banal levels of energy grids and utilities. The development of the standardised fuse box or boiler are as much agents of capital’s governing centralisation as the development of the macroscopic technologies through factories, industrial districts and global logistics. The position of the propertarian individual is made negligible. However in this techno-capital expansion, the character of a revolutionary event that can invert these logics looks increasingly complex, requiring both the intricate governing relations of the capitalist systems it mirrors and the possibility for experimentations beyond the growth system of endless accumulation and consumption.

With the particular developments of climate change, the urgency of these requirements is increased. A systemic answer to the failures of petrochemical and agro-industrial excesses is increasingly lacking, as the lack of the modern post-political structure is pushing the question of climate change fully within the scientific complex. The political questions regarding sacrifice and ideological re-foundation are side-lined by comforting delusions along the lines of “the scientists will solve it” or “we will find a system for global cooperation and/or climate governance”. Either this or it falls into the denialism of the search for the authentic, whether in the form of Agamben’s perspective that we can ignore the growing crises through the development of the social as against the technical or through a form of fully technicised globality as per Bratton, where the sensorial layer is re-pivoted toward a post-political control layer (fully actualising the a-centred democratic position of Stavrakakis). The only viable answers currently are found within the ideologies of localism through agricultural reforms and the development of regional networks of exchange and trade that deconstruct the complexity of global supply chains and simplify the transport and logistical requirements for agricultural production (as per Dacha gardening[6] or smallholding/homesteading).

The central question though is whether the homesteader has the potential for the ideological re-foundation required to challenge the dominant logics of capital and its territorialised governance structures. As climate change inevitably moves beyond the confines of the purely scientific, the potential conflicts that emerge may require the violent defense of homesteading communities to preserve their autonomy, particularly as the growth in cities may necessitate a rapacious accumulation of resources to feed its energy requirements. “The essence of violence (that) resides in the violent character of the very imposition/founding of the new mode of the Essence – disclosure of communal Being – itself”[7] can itself lead from this virtual position to the actual of ontic violence, expressed in the potential of rural-urban conflicts as territorialised versions of the conflicts of capital and oppositional inversion.

“We are forced to move forward in the ruins of old dogmas and cultural illusions, of broken institutions and arbitrary practices, and among the scattered debris of an aberrant civilization”[8]. In moving through these practices, noting their failures and moving forward to fail better, the revolutionary potentials that Zizek notes are part of the cyclical relations of abstraction and praxis that make the agonistic politics of the post-political left at best impotent, while also challenging the logics of the various sensorial layers that are the background governance of the ideology of modernity. The developments of violent machinations are not in the celebration of violence but in the requirements of challenging capital at all its scalar levels, pushing forth the evental struggle while at the same time building the infrastructure from the autonomous systems of exchange developing in the background of said revolutionary struggles, whether in the radical nature of the early Soviets or the anti-bureaucratic ontology of revolutionary terrors that fully invert the centralisation of their system into the chasm of the “people”. As climate change increases and deconstructs our symbolic reality, the madness’s of the real come forth and require further inversions, combining the doxa of the agro-ideological homesteaders with the revolutionary potential of the evental void, moving beyond the dialectical conflicts of class and/or geography and into the struggle of the new.


[1] Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes

[2] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2021/03/18/utopia-uchronia/

[3] Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes

[4] Benjamin Bratton, The Stack

[5] Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes

[6] https://smallfarmersjournal.com/russian-dacha-gardens/

[7] Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes

[8] https://syntheticzero.net/2017/03/16/the-opportunity-of-nihilism/

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