Construction or resistance?

This is from an interesting exchange on the IDC list, where Brian Holmes responds to my following quote:

Are you sure that activists from the old waves are not too wedded to particular types of spectacular resistance? What I see for example is a huge constructive shift towards new forms of being that go beyond the commodity form, the building of commons of knowledge, software and design, and new infrastructures based on it. Struggles that are based on the old contradictions are not the only ones to look for, nor are purely antagonistic protest attitudes. Just as interesting is a profound shift in values, relationships, infrastructure building, and the creation of a new culture.

Brian Holmes responds:

“My position on this for years has been “and and”. During the 90s and early years of this decade I became very interested in peer-to-peer theories and even more, practices. In addition to theorizing them in texts like “The Revenge of the Concept” I adopted free software myself and started to consciously work on cooperative cultural production outside the cash nexus, or with careful attention to understanding and relativizing the role of cash. Now I am getting increasingly involved with new forms of self-organized education and cultural production. So I agree with you on that, and indeed, I’ve always appreciated your work and the resources that you provide for others. It fits very much into what autonomous Marxism descibes as “exodus” from capitalist social relations (also beautifully described in André Gorz’s late book Misere du present, richesses du possible). However at the same time I think that critical and resistant practice is essential these days, and it also appears necessary in order to avoid a very strange kind of utopianism which says that in fact, everything is fine, we are on our way to a new society. I would say this is a form of autonomist quietism! In my opinion Adam Arvidsson is today one of the chief representatives of this tendency. I have read his work and I criticized it, not superficially I think, in the introduction to my new book, in a text called “Recapturing Subversion.”

The thing is, you see, some of us may indeed be on the way to a new kind of society, but time and again very reactionary forces block any widespread social transformation in this direction, and in my view it is a big mistake to pretend they are not there. After the re-election of Bush in 2004, as an American I had to invest the majority of my energy in critical projects, which I still carried on cooperatively of course. Indeed, all the political resistance and solidarity movements that have unfolded over the last fifteen years or so are based on a cooperative ethos, and cannot be developed any other way. So while there is always room to usefully critique the spectacular aspects that proliferate everywhere in society today, my experience is that most resistance movements are not of the “old wave” but really of the “new wave”! Which, again, is not to say there are not problems with the protest movements, of course there are many things to be usefully criticized; I just wanted to draw attention to the great importance of peer-to-peer style cooperative politics among networked resistance movements.

More recently, the journal Multitudes broke up over exactly this kind of debate. The other chief representative of autonomous quietism is the journal’s “director” (who always insists on having this title for himself) Yann Moulier Boutang, who believes that the development of finance capitalism is only a misplaced indicator of the immaterial productivity of the multitudes! For this, see his text in Multitudes 32, particularly the concluding paragraphs. Whereas I see finance as the operational logic, or you might say the operating system, of the control society, and indeed of capitalist control over humanity and nature… The political consequences of this utopian quietist approach are pretty clear: it leads to a populist cooptation of people’s desire for cooperative interaction, which can furnish a useful political rhetoric to corporations and political parties that need to improve their democratic image. This is another one of those spectacular aspects that should be resisted, in my opinion.”

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