Thursday, January 23, 2014

the social order legitimates itself by integrating potentially antagonistic forces into a logic of centralized administration...,

libcom | Over forty years ago Benjamin pointed out that "mass reproduction is aided especially by the reproduction of masses."[1] This statement captures the central cultural dynamic of a "late" capitalism. The triumph of the commodity form over every sphere of social existence has been made possible by a profound homogenization of work, play, aspirations and self-definition among subject populations - a condition Marcuse has characterized as one-dimensionality.[2] Ironically, while U.S. radicals in the late 1960s fantasized about a "new man" in the abstract, capital was in the process of concretely putting the finishing touches on its new individual. Beneath the current black-female-student-chicano-homosexual-old-young-handicapped, etc., etc., ad nauseum, "struggles" lies a simple truth: there is no coherent opposition to the present administrative apparatus.

Certainly, repression contributed significantly to the extermination of opposition and there is a long record of systematic corporate and state terror, from the Palmer Raids to the FBI campaign against the Black Panthers. Likewise, cooptation of individuals and programs has blunted opposition to bourgeois hegemony throughout this century, and cooptative mechanisms have become inextricable parts of strategies of containment. However, repression and cooptation can never fully explain the failure of opposition, and an exclusive focus on such external factors diverts attention from possible sources of failure within the opposition, thus paving the way for the reproduction of the pattern of failure. The opposition must investigate its own complicity.

During the 1960s theoretical reflexiveness was difficult because of the intensity of activism. When sharply drawn political issues demanded unambiguous responses, reflection on unintended consequences seemed treasonous. A decade later, coming to terms with what happened during that period is blocked by nostalgic glorification of fallen heroes and by a surrender which Gross describes as the "ironic frame-of-mind".[3] irony and nostalgia are two sides of the coin of resignation, the product of a cynical inwardness that makes retrospective critique seem tiresome or uncomfortable.[4]
At any rate, things have not moved in an emancipatory direction despite all claims that the protest of the 1960s has extended equalitarian democracy. In general, opportunities to determine one's destiny are no greater now than before and, more importantly, the critique of life-as-it-is disappeared as a practical activity; i.e., an ethical and political commitment to emancipation seems no longer legitimate, reasonable or valid. The amnestic principle, which imprisons the social past, also subverts any hope, which ends up seeking refuge in the predominant forms of alienation.

This is also true in the black community. Black opposition has dissolved into celebration and wish fulfillment. Today's political criticism within the black community — both Marxist-Leninist and nationalist — lacks a base and is unlikely to attract substantial constituencies. This complete collapse of political opposition among blacks, however, is anomalous. From the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott to the 1972 African Liberation Day demonstration, there was almost constant political motion among blacks. Since the early 1970s there has been a thorough pacification; or these antagonisms have been so depoliticized that they can surface only in alienated forms. Moreover, few attempts have been made to explain the atrophy of opposition within the black community.[5] Theoretical reflexiveness is as rare behind Dubois' veil as on the other side!

This critical failing is especially regrettable because black radical protests and the system's adjustments to them have served as catalysts in universalizing one-dimensionality and in moving into a new era of monopoly capitalism. In this new era, which Piccone has called the age of "artificial negativity," traditional forms of opposition have been made obsolete by a new pattern of social management.[6] Now, the social order legitimates itself by integrating potentially antagonistic forces into a logic of centralized administration. Once integrated, these forces regulate domination and prevent disruptive excess. Furthermore, when these internal regulatory mechanisms do not exist, the system must create them. To the extent that the black community has been pivotal in this new mode of administered domination, reconstruction of the trajectory of the 1960s' black activism can throw light on the current situation and the paradoxes it generates.  Fist tap Vic.