I recently noticed Elisabeth Anker’s Orgies of Feeling: Melodrama and the Politics of Freedom on my bookshelf, and that’s a title that resonates at the moment, as the emotional register of politics ramps up, especially in the US. But the book, although advancing a theory of melodrama as a general political mode, is primarily about the Bush administration, which a certain segment of liberal opinion is currently attempting to retroject as a period of reasonableness. This revisionism is probably itself a version of melodramatic politics, which, as Anker argues, requires positing history as a period of innocence to dramatize our current politics in terms of dastardly assault and heroic response to it. What’s interesting about re-reading the book now, though, is the continuity between the post-9/11 period and today, which I think shows some interesting things about supposedly post-neoliberal politics, and potential responses to them.
A recent (recent in actual time, if not in internet time) review of Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now has led to a steady stream of moderate leftists acting scandalized at Lewis’s suggestion that abolition of the family should be at the centre of left-wing politics. This response, when it isn’t just incredulous scoffing, generally emphasizes the family as an institution that embodies qualities of caring that should be maintained and extended in a socialist society. As the critical review of Full Surrogacy Now puts it,
While abolishing the family is obviously fraught with problems, providing it with the resources to reform its pathologies has much to recommend it…. Any viable progressive vision of a postcapitalist future cannot look like an experiment in social engineering, but as a project that recognizes the ties, both within the family and without, that often underlie the everyday struggles of working people.
This genre of “don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses” propaganda seeks to counter the view that socialism is impossibly radical by asserting that people are already socialist, they just don’t know it yet, finding instances of putative socialism in things people already agree with. I’ve come to think of this approach as an attempt to trick people into being socialist, because, in taking the (obviously reasonable) point of beginning agitation where the audience already is, it dissembles about the genuinely radical changes that socialism requires.
After my post last week about radicalising capitalist mediocrity, I was thinking about how another feature of capitalism might be transformed in communism: capitalism’s alienated but compulsory sociality. Capitalist production requires “sociality” in as much as capitalism forces workers to cooperate in collective work; but, capital also attempts to limit that cooperation so that it only includes the cooperation necessary for production and no more. So the assembly line, at least as idealised in capitalist imagination, would involve no direct human-to-human cooperation, but would instead embody all cooperation in machines.
One common Marxist response to this alienated compulsory sociality is to focus on the alienation part: in communism, the argument goes, alienated cooperation would be replaced with genuine human cooperation. This sounds horrible. Read more↴
I haven’t paid much attention to Left Unity, because TBH a group organised around the electoral road to social democracy seems more like an Old Labour re-enactment society than a viable political trajectory. Apparently, at their recent conference they decided not to adopt a basic income as a policy, which some have taken as a confirmation of Left Unity’s backward-looking position.
Certainly, there are plenty of reactionary old left arguments against the basic income, but it is worth reflecting on the fact that basic income was initially a right wing proposal (it was popularised by libertarians in the 70s, but, as I discovered from Angela Mitropoulos’s very persuasive criticism of basic income, it was earlier proposed by a Tory peer in the 40s). These capitalist advocates of the basic income do have a point; a basic income is a pro-market measure, at least in so far as people need to transform this cash income into the necessities of life by purchasing these necessities on the market.
There are two good things about the basic income as a demand, I think. Read more↴
I think I liked Revenge more when it started as Gossip Girl meets The Count of Monte Cristo, before it turned into 9/11 conspiracy theorist Batman. The first season, in which Emily remorselessly enacted revenge on the family that framed her father, did have a war on terror connection, but it seemed properly post-9/11 in that terrorism was almost purely background (I initially thought, on the basis of some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that the terrorist event that formed the backdrop of the show took place in 2001, although it turns out there was an additional chunk of the timeline that puts it nominally pre 9/11). In the second season the terrorist attack becomes a more direct focus of the show, with Emily now targeting the vague conspiracy of politicians and businessmen who planned it (under the guidance of the man who taught her the Batman skills necessary to her quest for vengeance). Read more↴
It is essential that we ask why it is that neo-anarchist ideas are so dominant amongst young people, and especially undergraduates. The blunt answer is that, although anarchist tactics are the most ineffective in attempting to defeat capital, capital has destroyed all the tactics that were effective, leaving this rump to propagate itself within the movement.
What this risks missing is that a tactic that has been destroyed by capital is, a fortiori, a completely ineffective tactic. Read more↴