A Response to a Zizekian question … Berardi and others…

Arran James in a previous post in response to Slavoj Zizek’s question ““The big question today is how to organise to act globally, at an immense international level, without regressing to some authoritarian rule.” – responds:

Zizek’s question at the end there, on the need to organise without authoritarianism, is of course the important one. I have been engaged elsewhere in talking about this question, roughly, and find it infuriating that people who claim to want to re-think “how to organise” maintain automatic positions. ‘No to electoral politics! No to working with Leninists!’- but then what are you organsing? You’re own theoretico-practical cul-de-sac? Let us rethink things, but not if it means questioning any of our assumptions! I understand the reasons to be anti-Leninism and so on, the historical reasons, the ideological ones, but to make use of things, to pick up what lies at hand…must the question always revolve around questions of reformism and revolutionism, of the necessity of the former and the poverty of the latter? I don’t even think electoral politics are pertinent to the mass of people anymore, that little game is over, and, likewise, do reform/revolution make much sense to us in a time when the majority of political actions are defensive, when the majority of would-be revolutionaries only know of revolutions from textbooks and television screens? (And among these I of course include myself!)

My response:

It’s not something one can force, either. While reading through some of Barardi he comes to a point when over a hundred thousand people came to Bologna in 1977. He says everyone was waiting for the “word” to begin, but no word ever came. I kept thinking, Why? Why does it always take one person, someone you wouldn’t really expect, the unknown X factor, to step up to the plate and start it all? Without leadership the crowd, the mass, is just that: lost, unable to act, unable to do for themselves what they know in their hearts must be done. Why do we always need confirmation first? Why have we bought into this need for some authority to tell us: It’s alright, I understand, you can begin now. You don’t have to fear anything but fear itself. Sure many of you may die, but we shall win through; for what we are doing has the force of truth in it.” Most people, sadly, are followers rather than leaders and cannot do for themselves what they should. It always comes down to: Buts… but I’m just one person, what can I do to make a difference? How can I begin? What’s to be done?” Maybe it comes down to critical mass… a sort of collective psychic trauma that spurs the mass into a collective awakening that then gets it all going… some event that wounds us to the core and forces us to rethink everything that we are or could be. One could puzzle over this for years. Psychologists have spent their lives trying to understand mass movements and why some succeed and others fail. But in the end there is no magic bullet. It’s something to do with Time…. even kairos – the right time… the moment when all the threads come together that offer the solution we’ve all been seeking to the tension of our moment.

Like now in our time. We all know that things cannot go on as they are going on the planet. Yet, we all sit back and wait, ponder, wonder: when will people wake up, when will they realize that our planet is dying and we with it? Why want they do something? Why do they allow the oligarchs of the world, the profiteers to enslave us in their capitalistic bullshit system? Why do we sit idly by and allow the devastation across the planet to go on? Are we all that lazy? Even in this philosophical world that I watch everyday: I see all of you going about your business, day by day, academic meetings, journals, etc. as if everything is just some parade of academic one-upmanship. There seems to be no cohesiveness, nothing gels, there is no focus, no central message or cause; not even, in Zizek’s sense, of a lost cause to be restored. Why? Why is it that philosophers sit on the sidelines (of course I know that many of them have gone down into the streets in the Occupy movement, etc.). Yet, there is nothing that unites us under one umbrella. And most seem to speak academic prose to other academics rather than simplifying their message for the masses. Without a spokesman to bring that message to the greater world all we accomplish is the hollow cries of despair. We echo only ideas to ourselves, honing down our so to speak epistemic and ontological arguments that in the long run will die just like the icebergs at the two poles. Sometimes, I, too, feel that despair and pessimism that Zizek speaks of, yet I also allow for the optimism and hope of change, too. “Everything under heaven is chaos: the situation is excellent,” Mao said. Yes, we are in a transformation moment, the generation that must change, must act, must make the first move out of this chaos and into a viable future. Sometimes it infuriates me that maybe Zizek might be right, maybe we do need a Leftwing Thatcher, someone strong enough to pull people together and give them direction, show them the way out of their lethargic carpology. But is that to admit defeat, to admit that the collective world of our planet cannot wake up? Why do we sleepwalk through existence? Does anyone out there have an answer to our moment? To why we are not changing the world, and instead are always, and only talking about change rather that doing it?

Marx once stated the obvious: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” (Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach) Will we continue interpreting or shall we begin changing it? It was Lenin himself in What is to be done? who asked himself how it is possible to organize collective action, and how the activity of intellectuals can become effective. For Lenin intellectuals are not a social class; they have no specific social interests to uphold. He saw them as parasites, intermediaries and organizers of a revolutionary consciousness descending from philosophical thought. On the other hand he saw the workers as bearers of social energy and interests, who would through the enactment of revolutionary politics and the party incarnate the and transmit the philosophical legacy. It was Gramsci who saw an organic relation between the intellectual and the workers. But in our age the intellectual is no longer separate, no longer independent of the productive apparatuses in which both worker and production come together. No. Now the intellectual is himself a part of the actual digital productive apparatus, what Paul Virno termed a ‘mass intellectual’; a term denoting the formation of social subjectivation that ties the intellectual to the mass standardization of knowledge in our digitalized economy.

Franco Berardi, along with other thinkers in Italy (Mario Tronti, Raniero Panzieri, Toni Negri, Romano Alquati) have formulated a new form of intellectual work, the cybertariat, the compositional reformulation of political organization in terms of social composition. As he remarks, “compositionism abandons the Leninist notions of the Party as a collective intellectual and leaves open the notion of the intellectual itself, by proposing a re-examination of the Marxian concept of General-Intellect.” (64 precarious rhapsody) Berardi tells us that the age of Lenin is finished, that the Party must leave the stage, that even Gramsci’s organic intellectual is a confusion now that ideology is fragmented and in disarray. What counts now he tells us is the “formation of a new social concatenation, which we can call the cognitariat, representing the social subjectivity of the General Intellect.” (65) What Berardi means by this he tells us is that we are in the digital age, that cognitive labor flows within the connective linkages of our global networks:

The infinitely fragmented mosaic of cognitive labor becomes a fluid process within a universal telematics network, and thus the shape of labor and capital are redefined. Capital becomes the generalized semiotic flux that runs through the veins of the global economy, while labor becomes the constant activation of the intelligence of countless semiotic agents linked to one another. (73)

Berardi mentions several other thinkers who have contributed to this resurgence in Marxian General Intellect theory productive of the notion of the new intellectuals as a Cybertariat: Paolo Virno, Christian Marazzi, Carlo Formenti and Maurizio Lazzarato: all have emphasized the interaction between labor and language and the new medias.

Like many I, too, have been affected by the internet. If it had not been for the internet I would probably still be ignorant of most of the intellectuals or cyberiats around the planet. This sense of community has arisen from the labor of millions who have interacted across physical and political barriers that otherwise would not have come about. Over the past 18 or so years we’ve seen a collective process going on that most people still see antagonistically. I’m reminded of many of the academic philosophers who castigate blogging as beneath them, as something that has nothing to do with philosophy. So be it. Hell, I’m no philosopher, I’m just one human thinking… and, yet, if it were not for the internet my thinking would depend on older technologies, slower processes, an age of machines and industrial bookish mentality that is of no pertinence now… now is the age of the Cyberiatarians, the new Intellectuals of the Collective InfoSphere. May they wake up and start the change necessary to bring people around the globe together as part of something worth doing: the future is now. Let us begin.

14 thoughts on “A Response to a Zizekian question … Berardi and others…

  1. at an anthropo/psyche level there is something not just to authority-figures but to living examples in general that makes things seem possible (say a poor worker setting himself ablaze and sparking revolutions) that makes for WilliamJamesish living possibilities, but even for those of us who were not of a kind to be suited to the harnesses and blinders of academic beasts of burden, or other such domesticated species, there isn’t any obvious means of change/re-production to gear into and frankly I’m increasingly wary of the idea/possibilities of social engineering and more focused on how to be/come human(e) in the midst of natural (writ large) global disasters.


  2. dmf, the very conception of “social engineering” is one that appeals to exactly that world that Berardi, and I think Steven and I would say is behind us. The very thought of compositionism, a thought that relies on no progressivist temporality and can warrant no position of transcendence from the mess and murk of the sociosubjective field, can’t be controlled by sociale ingenieurs. This is precisely why even if Lenin and political parties remains useful they are no less answers to the question of organisation than anti-political spontaneity is. The social engineer doesn’t really exist if it is inseparable from that which is being engineered. Today, “social engineer” is more likely to mean a particular kind of cybertarian (a lumpen cybertarian?) who attempts to commit digital security crimes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_engineering_(security)

    Some are arguing that this cybertarian position ought to be resisted through a new luddism (http://internationalsocialist.org.uk/index.php/2013/01/we-need-a-new-luddism/) while others might claim that the new luddism consists precisely in the refusal to notice that the digital revolution has already rendered the old world (that which could still be split between online and offline) obsolete. I don’t know which of these positions to take, feeling that to take either of them would be too much…we often still think in terms of a predigital world.


    • I see myself as part of the ‘lumpen cybertariat’. Being neither a professional intellectual or philosopher, I embraced the internet from the ground up so to speak. Having started in the late eighties as just a BBS hacker and gopherite on the university comps I began my dialogue with others during that early cyberpunk era. Having seen the technologies expand and form over time a multifarious experimental set of communities online over the years I’ve seen it go through many phases. We seem now to be moving both inward and outward at the same time. I see hidden communities that hide themselves behind walls of information and subterfuge, hidden codes and signs; as well as the up front commercial and non commercial worlds of bloggers, academics, etc. And, you’re right, Arran, for the most part people on the planetary scale are still part of the pre-digital age. It’s still only a minority, even if that entails thousands, who use the new medium to pursue change and political movement. We are in a fragile moment, since the State based governments are seek day by day ways of closing off free speech and the global nexus of individual thought. The luddites as you say would just as soon the whole underpinning system of servers be brought down, but they would send us back to the stone age if they had their way. There are abuses of technology, we all know that, but we need it for the speed of communication, for the ability to micrograph our thoughts globally, the apply those tools locally to the actual real world problems that must be faced in local sociocultural ecologies. There is no universal answer to local issue, but there is a General Intellectual ecology of knowledge from which to draw.

      Having also been fascinated with the gaming communities online, of the use of TeamSpeak and Ventrillo, of the political machinations of gaming worlds from Eve Online and others where cooperation is a part and partial part of the fragmented interplay of such worlds, one is amazed at how little use is made by the academic world of the available tools that have been invented for communicating with each other and others online. There seems to be a resistance to the new media and mediums of this new technology. Why are philosophers who supposedly represent the cutting edge in thought so afraid of this cybertariat world? Hell, I’m just an old hippie at heart, who grew into this… just an old geezer who used to depend of books and bookstores and libraries…. but now I have thousands of portals to more information than I or anyone else could ever digest. I sometimes think of the SETI application, of how they allow people to download the app onto their computer and use their system to process the nodes of stars billions of light years away. Just think if we combined the mass intellectual power of the planet into saving it rather than bickering and killing each other? What then?


      • in large part it’s not what they are good at and so comfortable with (just as most of them aren’t very good at extra-curricular social/political involvements and so are being raided/repurposed to death by the for-profit-Borgs) , and for the few rare more reflective souls I think that there isn’t yet (that I know of) the electronic equivalent of a close-reading seminar and so too much gets lost in the too and fro of online communication, but certainly that will possibly change with better technology.


      • I was born in 1984 (a fact I can’t help but enjoy), so was among the last generations to have to “enter cyberspace” as it were, but also one of the first who grew up “inside” it. I agree with the bulk of what you’re saying here. The new Luddism all too easily slips into the kind of reactionary bullshit of John Zerzan and the whole anarcho-primitivist crowd (although what is anarchist in their thought is beyond me). I think someone like Hakim Bey expresses a lot of these issues pretty well in his ‘Extropians and Primitives’, although its been a few years since I read it so my opinions might have changed and I may be misremembering some of his argument. (http://hermetic.com/bey/primitives.html)

        finally, on the online world…this is a manifesto that was written by a friend of mine http://vgsblackmarket.com/about/manifesto/

        All of which is said, one of my recent posts was on the need to continuously remember the materiality of the immaterial; we may live in the Cloud, but that still relies on serves, electricity, and the entire field of material (and immaterial) production.


    • hey Arran i’m speaking to the actual practices of engineers and after Derrida don’t see a philosophical difference between engineering and bricolage.


    • I agree with you about the need for better technologies, of ways of organizing information, in ways that bring about better dialogue and communication across the board. We know that the commercial capitalist sector of State and Private business are heavily investing in data warehouses and software programs to filter and organize, sift the vast quantities of information. The giant facility being developed in Utah for the NSA is crazed. It will hold information that would take several lifetimes to filter and explicate. Why does the US Government need such giant accumulative systems for surveillance.

      The same creative and empowering things we as cybertarians might develop for emancipation will and have been co-opted by State and Private capitalist systems for enslaving and controlling the populace. How do we counter such a hideous state of affairs? For every collective foot forward the State and Private run systems move us a step backwards through regulation etc. Yet, we know that the vast underground economy works just a step ahead of this agenda, that they probe every aspect of the system for holes and blank spaces and learn to use such problematic areas to their advantage. Why is it we have not developed a worldwide underground movement outside the confines of the capitalist networks? How is it possible to do such a thing? The mobile phone industry is more and more closing down as well… everything is regulated and controlled.

      Our very calls to regulate the financiers who are plundering the world, will be instead turned on us as if it were for our own good. Oh they’ll do it subtly at first, regulating this and that, one step at a time, till one of these days we will have our blogs shut down for saying the wrong keyword, the wrong phrase, something off color … then we’ll be in jail, criminalized for our language. The criminalization of language and speech will happen slowly and under the hood, subtly without us every realizing it… certain blogs and sites will just slowly be dispersed, disappeared over time…. will we have any say in the matter? What if these big money creatures buy up the open access world of blogs etc. and just close the doors? What then? Are we even thinking about such things? If we are exploring change, they are listening and exploring ways to close us down, to put a dampener in our so to speak free-speech day by day… will there be a voice left in 10 years, or even 5? If we just pitter-patter at each other with the same old round of inane philosophy talk that I’ve seen for the past few years I’ll assume that instead we’ve already begun the process of shutting ourselves down.

      As you said, those luddite anarchistic groups seem bent on just destroying every aspect of civilization, of bringing it to its knees. That isn’t the path, that’s destruction for destructions sake. We need real questions, real solutions.


      • yes real/operationable solutions are what is needed (and this is certainly part of what keeps academics from the humanities from playing a more useful role as they by and large have so little to offer along these lines) and no doubt the technological hacks/innovations will play a major role in whatever comes next, but I don’t see much in the way of new actualizable psychologies that will allow people to organize in ways that will match the scales and powers that be. As an old DIYer I can appreciate the program or be programmed war-cry/ethos but as a practicing shrink and onetime organizer I’m perplexed at best.


  3. Also, on the question of leadership and authority (the Master)…here is a section from Bakunin that I really enjoy:

    Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting a single authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognise no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.

    If I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because their authority is imposed on me by no one, neither by men nor by God. Otherwise I would repel them with horror, and bid the devil take their counsels, their directions, and their services, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and self-respect, for such scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, as they might give me.

    I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. The greatest intelligence would not be equal to a comprehension of the whole. Thence results, for science as well as for industry, the necessity of the division and association of labour. I receive and I give – such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary, and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.

    This same reason forbids me, then, to recognise a fixed, constant and universal authority, because there is no universal man, no man capable of grasping in all that wealth of detail, without which the application of science to life is impossible, all the sciences, all the branches of social life. And if such universality could ever be realised in a single man, and if he wished to take advantage thereof to impose his authority upon us, it would be necessary to drive this man out of society, because his authority would inevitably reduce all the others to slavery and imbecility. I do not think that society ought to maltreat men of genius as it has done hitherto: but neither do I think it should indulge them too far, still less accord them any privileges or exclusive rights whatsoever; and that for three reasons: first, because it would often mistake a charlatan for a man of genius; second, because, through such a system of privileges, it might transform into a charlatan even a real man of genius, demoralise him, and degrade him; and, finally, because it would establish a master over itself.


    • That’s just it: there is no Master, no Renaissance Intellect that can grasp the totality of all that has been thought or done, no one person that can stand in for us all and lead us to the promised land. The myth of the Master is dead. Now we are inventing a new subjectivity, a new subject, one that is part and partial, fragmentary and alive in the production of knowledge that is ongoing, in process, never to be totalized or completed, because the real world is continuously changing. There can be no mastery of difference, there can only be negotiations along the plane of consistency.

      What Robert Bolano of 2666 fame once said of Literature, could just as well be said of our cyberworlds of the internet:

      “Literature is an armor-plated machine. It doesn’t care about writers. Sometimes it doesn’t even notice they exist. Literature’s enemy is something else, something much bigger and more powerful, that in the end will conquer it.”

      If one substituted “internet” for “literature” in the above sentence one might get the drift. Yet, Bolano, never mentioned what that something was that might conquer it. I assume that it would be all those capitalist apparatuses that want to close down our open and communicative cybertariat.


    • Something else. What I like about such philosophers as Slavoj Zizek is his fearlessness, his honesty and forthrightness. He’s a Communist (of a singular sort, quirky and strange) and doesn’t mind telling the world to go fuck themselves. He has no time for fuckheads of any stripe, and doesn’t mind telling them this. Why should be waste our time of fools when the world is burning is what he’s saying. We must wake up and act, be about our work. There is no Big Other, no Big Solution. What we have is just this day in our lives: what will you do today to change things? It could be just a gesture, just a smile, just a kind word; or, it could be a statement, maybe a piece of graffiti on an old bus or building. Maybe some music on the streetcorner, a little of Tom Waits or Tom Russell. It could be almost anything…. most of all it just needs to happen.


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