Left-wing » activists are now faced with the virtual impossibility of making their point of view known through any kind of action. Everything they have done, are doing, or will do will somehow be held against them. How did we get here? Before making an inventory of the current obstacles to left-wing militancy, a brief historical review is not useless to understand the long descent into hell of a current of thought which was however, during a hundred years, let’s say from 1844 to 1944(1), the living force of a people henceforth unsubdued.
At the same time that the Program of the National Council of the Resistance was adopted underground (on March 15, 1944), Hayek published his Road to Serfdom, which he had paved from 1940 to 1943. His message? It is not because communism has just won a victory against fascism (and at what price!) that we should give up. It is not because the communist ideal is more alive than ever in the political imagination, and that it even inscribes its concrete demands in the political life of the immediate post-war period, that the game is lost. We must patiently network the academic world, infiltrate the media, and infiltrate all levels of power, until the time is right to act. This came thirty years later, with the loss of momentum, the US-US oil peak (King Hubbert envisaged it as early as 1956 between 1965 and 1970), the end of Bretton Woods (on 15 August 1971, the United States suspended the convertibility of the dollar into gold), and the policy that OPEC redefined on the occasion of the Yom Kippur War (1973).
In fact, it was the ideas of Hayek and his accomplices that allowed Pinochet to overthrow Allende and impose the criminal strategy of shock on the Chilean economy (2). Between September 11, 1973 and September 11, 2001, there will be, on average, a succession of increasingly right-wing governments. I write on average, because some countries will briefly escape the drift, while others will have left-wing governments that work a little less to the right, or will be more inert in implementing liberal reforms, which are necessary but never sufficient. With the advent of the « new left » and neoliberalism, there is simply no alternative (Thatcher’s famous « TINA », c. 1975)(3).
Finally, since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), the dissolution of Comecon (1991), and, even more so, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the absence of an alternative is self-evident. It is time for globalization, that is to say, for the US-Americanization of the world at the economic (no salvation outside free trade in dollars), political (the « international community » is NATO), and military (NATO is the « international community ») levels. Since the controlled demolition of Libya (2011), Muslim, Russian and Chinese terrorists have certainly claimed to be building a multipolar world, but the news has not yet percolated into Western minds — except in those who suspect that this will not be respectful of human rights.
There are therefore four militant eras. Paradoxically, the golden age of activism is also the age of savage, colonial, and Creepy capitalism, as it should be. Between 1844 and 1944, the communist ideal and philosophy constitute, respectively, a powerful attractor and a coherent and applicable reading grid. The working world is mobilized, or mobilizable, behind the concept of class struggle. There is no doubt that the « left/right » difference represents the gulf between the people below and the people above. The failure of the Internationals and the wanderings of Soviet communism change absolutely nothing.
The Silver Age, from 1945 to 1972, is the age of compromise and compromise of social democracy. The evidence of the need for social consultation is matched only by that of the Cold War. In fact, the ideological, military and police stranglehold has never been loosened around communism and its followers. However, nothing will be the same after the failure of May 68. It is of course a revolution aborted by the CGT and the PCF, and recovered by the conservatives. The sleight of hand operated by the oligarchy is remarkable: the revolutionary demands, which questioned, by definition, the modalities of the exercise of power, were transformed into infantile demands. On the one hand, Gallic conservatism becomes Pompidolian liberalism and the oligarchs sleep on our two ears again; on the other hand, the social fabric is unravelled with the help of perverted ideals. The notion of authority, without which education is impossible, is denounced (Arendt’s diagnosis is also a prognosis(4)); we adopt a feminism more concerned with capital than with women; anarchy becomes libertarian, or liberal-libertarian, consumption becomes libidinal and playful; and the challenge of degrowth is about to become the sustainable developmentchallenge. It will be either capitalism or barbarism.
The Iron Age, from 1973 to 2001, is that of the resignation of the « new left » in the face of the return of fascist capitalism and its moralizing discourse: after having largely lived beyond its means, Western society must now face a crisis that requires a policy of « austerity ». This is the turn of the austerity of Mitterrand (1983) and that of the joker of Blair (1997)(5). The difference « left/right » is demonetized… by the right, while the new left finds its raison d’être in it, and its base sees nothing but fire. The (retro)pantouflage undermines the state from within. What more could you ask for from capitalists in search of profit?
The Iron Age, which has been ours since, conventionally, 2001, is marked by the impoverishment of the middle classes and the stupor of all in front of real-false economic machinations and real-false political entanglements. It is the turn of terror that has been adopted by the great ones of this world, unanimous in the face of the new phantom threat. In this surreal, Manichean and Orwellian context, it has become extremely difficult to express dissent, let alone manifest it through any concrete action. The reasons for this neo-maccarthyism are not difficult to identify.
Firstly, since the press of opinion has virtually disappeared in sometimes violent circumstances(6), and since national radio and television stations have been converted to the demands of advertisers, citizens have difficulty finding information that could guide their economic choices and political judgments. One should resolve, as Chomsky writes, to read the Wall Street Journal or its local equivalent. And again…
Secondly, the capacity of education to foster critical thinking being in free fall (we will leave it to manufacture skills on To a certain extent), citizens have a hard time sorting out the information to which they have access, linking it together, and drawing all the necessary consequences.
Thirdly, those who, for reasons that escape any sociological investigation, have not given up systematically keeping abreast of the vagaries of history, still know how to prioritize the data, and have the courage to draw conclusions from their reflections, fall ipso facto under the condemnation of « conspiracy ». Indeed, we are witnessing the criminalization of dissent in all its forms.
Fourth, the activist who nevertheless decides to act, whether by speaking out on sensitive issues, by organizing some kind of action, or even by refraining from acting (by practicing Thoreau’s « Civil Disobedience »), will face some additional obstacles, not the least of which are Absolute silence is the first. It may eventually turn into polite silence, not even disapproving. This is, for example, the fate of Chomsky in the United States. (This is also the fate that Chomsky himself reserves, across the Atlantic, for those who do not accept the official version of the events of September 11, 2001. Symbolic violence has its reasons that reason does not know). The refusal to let the person concerned speak freely has become standard journalistic practice. Before he can even finish, or begin, his first sentence, he is faced with a second question that too often ignores what has just been outlined (or not). Or the trade unionist is asked to acknowledge the assault and to condemn the possible drift of the demonstration(7). Decontextualization, adding errors, maliciousness, unreasonableness, outright invention, slander, and salad talk complete the panoply of the perfect disinformer. « False ignorance and cold lies(8) » may not be enough, however; the violent and crude condemnation by colleagues, experts and watchdogs (from Nizan to Halimi), comes next. It is a question here, very prosaically, of satisfying the carnivorous appetites of a certain fringe of the population. It takes a Mélenchon to survive the repetition of such an event. Finally, the pure and simple reversal of the meaning of the militant action if, by extraordinary, the media system should feel the need to speak about it, is remarkable. « In a truly inverted world, the true is a moment of the false. (9) »
The conclusion is obvious: whether he acts or not, whether he explains himself or not, whether he apologizes (!) or not, the activist will only communicate his lack of ability to communicate, that is to say, his lack of control over his own image and its diffusion. It is the consequence of the extreme disintegration of the social fabric and the fusion of (counter)powers; it has two roots. On the one hand, conformism manifests itself in the infantilization and indifferentiation of people, the depoliticization of citizens, and the standardization of consumers, all of which constitute valuable muzzles to paralyze bodies and amnesiac minds. You have to be crazy to pretend to think, that is to say to criticize, anything or anyone, in such an atmosphere. It is, after all, so convenient to be a minor. To the doghouse, the yelpers of Kant! On the other hand, atomism is detectable in the political impotence felt, to varying degrees, by our contemporaries. It is both a symptom of the bankruptcy of representative democracy and a sign of the return of a form of governance that is even more respectful of the rights of capital. Humanity must confine itself to the war of all against all(10). To conformism and atomism, which have haunted industrial societies since their advent, we must add generalized surveillance, and the anxiety it feeds under the pretext of preventing it.
What are the tools that, in practice, make it possible to seal the fate of citizens in a market democracy? Debt, obsolescence and advertising are instrumental, especially since the crisis of 1972. The very first political tool of standardization and atomism is advertising. It is claimed as such by its pioneers: « the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions of the masses is an important element of democratic society(11) « . It is not in vain that we speak of market democracy. A brief historical review is also enlightening here.
The advertisement seems to emerge around 1830, and its particularity is to make public the industrial solution to needs that can claim a certain reality. It can be argued that water and gas on all floors, a toothbrush for each person, a gas stove with thermostatic oven, or an electric vacuum cleaner, significantly improve the standard of living. The social and ecological costs of production and use remain to be evaluated, but for the sake of our argument, we can put them in brackets.
The obsolescence that reigns then is first of all functional: the out-of-use product must be replaced. With continued innovation, obsolescence then becomes technical: the « outdated » product is one that can be replaced by a more efficient or more sophisticated equivalent. A third form of obsolescence appeared as early as 1924: programmed obsolescence or planned obsolescence. The Phoebus cartel (1924–1939) is remembered as the first oligopoly created to maintain demand by simply vitiating production. The incandescent lamps produced by the members of the cartel could no longer, under penalty of a fine, have a life of more than a thousand hours. Producing ready-to-use products is capitalism’s first real parade.
When advertising gave way in the 1970s to the advertising-marketing, the market is already saturated and the goal of advertising becomes to promote the alleged performance of one brand over another (a gas stove of brand X rather than brand Y) — no longer by reason or emotion, but by desire(12).
A new threshold was crossed at the end of the 1980s, with multimedia communication (including « branding »), and the creation of totally fake existential needs. Contrary to advertising and, to a certain extent, to publicity, communication seeks to take full ownership of the lives of individuals. And it is not only the creation of purely existential needs (car religion, cosmetic surgery, botox, genetic engineering, …), but the rape of the mental world of the individual(13). The consumer is defined more than ever by his symbolic consumption: it is the logos that give substance and form to his social life. You don’t buy a Dring brand phone anymore, you become Dring. For once, Sartre seems to have anticipated some applicable idea.
Obsolescence is now psychological: the consumer can no longer identify with old-fashioned products — or risk being downgraded. In The Naked FeastBurroughs found the words to express the new relationship between the producer and the consumer: the dealer does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product; he does not try to improve and simplify his product, he degrades and simplifies his client… The dope is the ultimate product: no need for a sales pitch to seduce the buyer, who is ready to crawl across a sewer on his knees to beg for the possibility of buying it(14). The commodity must therefore be thought of as an ideal means of control. To do this, it was supported by the liberation of credit: by buying on credit, one consumes, by definition, what one cannot afford and we chain ourselves to the production machine, which we expect to regurgitate part of the surplus value of labor (or what takes the place of it) to pay the interest on the loan.
All this has been theorized by Debord and Bourdieu, and reinterpreted by Dufour.
The most striking shortcut that can be dared on the Debord’sSociety of the Spectacle (1967) consists in relating it to the allegory of the cave: the being is reduced there to the appearance, and this appearance is machined without one being able to understand the script starting from the spectacle, simply because the causality cannot be perceived there. To the real, which is lived and shared interiority, is opposed the represented, which is spectacular and solitary exteriority, as life is opposed to death. Two keys are important in this shadow theater of simulacra: atomism and conformism. On the one hand, the spectacle is superficial, entertaining and alienating in its individual enjoyment; on the other hand, it embodies a social relationship structured by the producer/consumer axis. « The show is not a set of images, but a social relationship between people, mediated by images(15) »
Precisely, in Sur la télévision (1996), Bourdieu analyzes the symbolic violence that permeates the journalistic field and « the unhoused tenants of the territory of approval(16) « . On the one hand, television is dangerous insofar as it holds an immense power of diversion (i.e., of production of miscellaneous facts) and of redirection of the citizen’s attention. On the other hand, the relationship between culture and politics has become harmful: Bourdieu denounces deculturation (destructive conformism) and depoliticization (censorship and self-censorship of professional speakers); he distinguishes between received ideas (instantly mediatizable) and articulated discourse (which requires a long argument and therefore another format and another vector than the mass media).
For his part, in L’individu qui vient… après le libéralisme (2011), Dany-Robert Dufour notes that Bourdieu’s guiding thread is adequate, but that his argument is not complete. Neoliberalism, as a program of destruction of collective structures (culture, citizen associations, unions, families, nation-state, …), also targets (above all?) the psychic integrity of individuals. The destruction of the autonomous subject is twofold: the critical subject (able to exercise thought) and the neurotic subject (susceptible to guilt). The neoliberal « subject » is inherently acritical and psychotic. Dufour bases the « post-identitarian » program on the industries that support and ultimately kill fantasy: essentially the pornographic industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the surgical industry of the intimate & the psychiatric and asylums industry. The machining of sexuality is similar to what Sironi calls psychic break-in: the major objective of torturing systems is to silence, to produce deculturation by psychically destroying an individual.
In fact, we are not in uncharted territory at all. When Leo Löwenthal analyzes the Nazi genocidal policy(17), he reveals identical premises: the destructuring that « democracy » subjects to community life corresponds point for point to that demanded by the « divine market ». Hence the conclusion he announces at the outset: fascist terror is deeply rooted in the Western techno-scientific mindset, and more particularly in the « market of pure and perfect competition » desired by Hayek. For Löwenthal, as for Orwell a few years later, thinking becomes a stupid and scandalous crime (cf. « To survive, clones must take refuge in a protective stupor, in a moral coma ( cf. « protective stupidity »)(18). The question then bounces around: how does the Terror put the clones in a stupor? Orwell’s answer is well known: the practice of doublethink pushes each clone into the grip of psychosis and allows the Party to control reality, nothing more and nothing less. It is necessary for him to know and not to know, to be conscious of the absolute truth of his words while elaborating it from complex lies; he must be able to forget what it is necessary to forget while having the faculty to remember it if need be… One leaves the field of the cognitive dissonance to enter the sphere of the psychosis fully. In comparison, the replacement of the cultural narrative of the harmonization of solidarity and individuation with the narrative of the clone war is a kind of neurotic joke. It is not by chance that Orwell speaks of « controlled insanity » and the imperative of torture as a means of exercising political power.
September 11 offers us two complementary examples of psychotic injunction. First, the absurd interpretation of what is visible: since the 1950s, the vast majority of Westerners have known the visual signature of controlled demolition, which is used systematically in countries of great programmed obsolescence; they are required (but not required) to ignore (without really being able to) this empirical knowledge. Secondly, the forced hallucination of what is invisible: while nothing is discriminable in the video that has been made public, the citizen is (and is not) asked to discover the horrified faces of the passengers of a sinking Boeing(19).
This being said, the mechanism of reversal that is implemented by the clerks of the system of spectacular lies(20) deserves to be considered. The double constraint is the following: on the one hand, any left-wing militant action that is not echoed by the media has never taken place for the average citizen; on the other hand, any action echoed by the media will worsen, if it is still possible, the image of its creators. In the same way that, in an incestuous family, the child is, at the same time, obliged to continue to live with, if not for, the perverse adult, he knows that each new interaction will be traumatic. Depending on the depth, duration, and repetition of the traumatic events, the victim will adopt one of the survival strategies that have been well documented since the Freudian imposture became known: feelings of shame and guilt, risky behaviors, self-destructive behaviors, such as self-mutilation, sexual promiscuity, and suicide attempts, become progressively inevitable. In such a context, one may wonder if those who fall into schizophrenia do not end up doing so badly.
Similarly, the activist can only advance his or her ideals with difficulty without access to the mass media; and every access to the media degrades his or her image. And the image is everything; it has become the main capital in the Bourdieusian sense — or, rather, the meta-capital heading all the others. We recall the forms of capital that define position in the social field: economic capital (income and movable and immovable assets), cultural capital (cultural resources: cultural habitus, educational qualifications, possession of cultural goods), social capital (network of relationships), and symbolic capital (titles, rituals, honours)(21). The one who can choose how he will be represented in the media holds the economic, cultural, social and symbolic keys. By playing on some, he will inevitably acquire the others. The arrivals opt for media invisibility, while the arrivals seek to conquer and occupy the media space, depending on the profile and objectives.
In conclusion, left-wing activism faces three major obstacles.
First, the ideological context has never been so unfavorable. To claim that there is no alternative (« TINA ») also means that there is no longer a left, that the left-right divide is the equivalent in economics of the difference between alchemy and chemistry in hard science. Pauperized crowds no longer recognize themselves in activism, but they are, on the other hand, very happy to see themselves as (im)powerful rich people, as « celebrities » who only want to be discovered. Why spoil this future by spitting in the cold soup? Leftists have produced, at best, obsolete thinking and, at worst, incoherent, unworkable, and inadequate demands.
Secondly, in a society of spectacle, all information passes through the media, and these are, for the most part, in order. The media system thus chooses to relay, or not, to comment, or not, and, above all, to implicitly give the key. In short, freedom of expression is guaranteed as long as it is totally ineffective, or even detrimental to the free thinker.
Third, in such a perverse system, it is simply not possible to « answer the fool according to his folly, so that he may not imagine himself wise(22) « : reason has left the public sphere. There is nothing less media-friendly than reason; desire and emotion must be manipulated without qualms. The activist is perhaps even more handicapped by this reality than by the other two. Seeking to present one’s point of view honestly, believing in truth, in virtue, in the common good, are all traits that become disabling when the true is a moment of the false, and the reversed world is the real world. Contradictory debates are useless; when they are apparently programmed, they are immediately appropriated by the spectacular logic.
Here we touch on the fundamental spring of media terror. To be absent from the media landscape would confirm the ideological bankruptcy of the left; to try to appear there confirms its failure. It is therefore not a contradiction that we are dealing with, but a paradox for which no rational solution seems possible. However, the only answer to a paradox is a counter-paradox: we should communicate in such a way as to pervert this perverse system. Let’s take a more or less random example: create a party, campaign when the opportunity arises with a real rational and positive program (not a tissue of negations) and call for abstention or a null vote. Impossible then to lose the elections!
The time for guerrilla warfare has come.
- Marx et Engels se rencontrent à Paris le 28 août 1844 ; on peut estimer que le système philosophique de Marx est fondé entre août et décembre 1844 ; le Manifeste du parti communiste est publié de façon anonyme en mars 1848 à Londres ; le Programme du Conseil national de la Résistance est adopté dans la clandestinité en mars 1944.
- Naomi Klein, La Stratégie du choc : la montée d’un capitalisme du désastre , Arles, Actes Sud, 2010.
- Claire Berlinski, There Is No Alternative. Why Margaret Thatcher Matters, New York, Basic Books, 2008, p. 138.
- En mai 1958, Arendt donne à Brême une conférence, intitulée « Die Krise in der Erziehung », analysant la crise de l’enseignement US-américain des années 1920 ; elle sera traduite sous le titre « Crisis in Education » et publiée, en français, dans le recueil La Crise de la culture. Huit exercices de pensée politique (Traduit de l’anglais sous la direction de Patrick Lévy, Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 1972).
- Anthony Giddens, Beyond left and right: the future of radical politics, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1994 ; The Third Way, Cambridge, Aubie Polity Press, 1998.
- La violence purement économique mise à part, on se souviendra, par exemple, que les locaux de Pour furent incendiés par des militants d’extrême droite en 1981.
- « Est-ce que vous regrettez ces violences ? » demandèrent, en boucle, David Pujadas interrogeant Xavier Mathieu de l’usine Continental (2010), et Pascale Clark à Mickaël Wamen de l’usine Goodyear (2013).
- Cf. Guy Debord, Considérations sur l’assassinat de Gérard Lebovici , in Œuvres. Édition établie et annotée par Jean-Louis Rançon en collaboration avec Alice Debord. Préface et introductions de Vincent Kaufmann, Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 2006, pp. 1539 sq.
- Debord, qui, comme il se doit, inverse Hegel (La Société du spectacle, 1967, §9 in Œuvres, p. 768)
- « In the nature of men, we find three principal causes of quarrel: first, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first makes man invade for gain; the second, for safety; the third, for reputation. […] During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in a condition which is called war; and such a war is of every man against every man. […] continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. […] The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law. » (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan , Part I, Chap. 13 ; Edited with an Introduction by C. B. Macpherson, Penguin, 1968, pp. 185 sq.)
- Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda, New York, Horace Liveright, 1928, p. 9 ; cf. The Engineering of Consent, Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947.
- En fait, l’injection des présupposés de la psychanalyse freudienne dans la publicité au sens large remonte à Edward Bernays, qui fonde la première firme de « relations publiques » en 1919 et à Walter Lippmann, qui utilise l’expression « engineering of consent » déjà en 1922.
- Alice Miller et Françoise Sironi parleraient d’« effraction psychique ».
- William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch , New York, Grove Press, 1991, p. xxxvii.
- Guy Debord, La Société du spectacle, §4, in Œuvres, p. 767.
- Guy Debord, Réfutations de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles, qui ont été jusqu’ici portés sur le film « La Société du spectacle », 1975, 5m19, in Œuvres. Édition établie et annotée par Jean-Louis Rançon en collaboration avec Alice Debord. Préface et introductions de Vincent Kaufmann, Paris, Éditions Gallimard, Quarto, 2006, pp. 1292 sq., ici 1296
- Leo Löwenthal, « Terror’s Atomization of Man », Commentary 1, 1945/1946, pp. 1–8. Voir M. Weber, « Le 11-Septembre entre mythe et grand récit », Kairos 8, septembre / octobre 2013, pp. 13–15.
- « Essentially, the modern system of terror amounts to the atomization of the individual. We shudder at the tortures inflicted on the physical bodies of men; we should be no less appalled by its meance to the spirit of man. […] The individual under terrorist conditions is never alone and always alone. He becomes numb and rigid not only in relation to his neighbor but also in relation to himself; fear robs him of the power of spontaneous emotional or mental reaction. Thinking becomes a stupid crime; it endangers his life. The inevitable consequence is that stupidity spreads as a contagious disease among the terrorized population. Human beings live in a state of stupor, in a moral coma. » (Löwenthal, op. cit., p. 2)
- « Je n’ai pas assisté au crash de l’avion, mais le chauffeur du véhicule d’où je suis sorti à ce moment précis l’a vu avec tant de précision qu’il a même distingué les visages terrifiés des passagers aux fenêtres. » (Alexander Cockburn, « Le complot du 11-Septembre n’aura pas lieu », Le Monde diplomatique, Décembre 2006, p. 3)
- Guy Debord, Réfutations de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu’hostiles, qui ont été jusqu’ici portés sur le film « La Société du spectacle », 1975, 5m30, in Œuvres, pp. 1292 sq., ici 1296
- Pierre Bourdieu, La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement . Nouvelle édition, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1982.
- Guy Debord, Considérations sur l’assassinat de Gérard Lebovici, 1985, in Œuvres, p. 1540 ; cf. Proverbes 26, 5.
- Philosophe. Dernier ouvrage paru : Contre le totalitarisme transhumaniste : les enseignements philosophiques du sens commun, Limoges, FYP éditions, sept. 2018.