Radical media, politics and culture.

Félix Guattari, "The New Spaces of Freedom"

The New Spaces of Freedom Félix Guattari Montréal, November 1984 Translated by Arianna Bove and Noe Le Blanc

We might refuse to resign ourselves to it, but we know for a fact that both in the East and in the majority of the Third World rights and liberties are subject to the discretionary powers of the political forces in charge of the state. Yet we are not so ready to admit, and often refuse to confront, the fact that they are equally threatened in the West, in countries that like to call themselves ‘champions of the free world’.

This hard question, so close to the skin and pregnant with dramatic human implications, is hardly resolved if we remain at a level of statements of principle. It would be impossible to fail to recognize the fact that for a dozen years a whole bundle of rights and freedoms and a whole series of spaces of freedom continued to lose ground in Europe. If we consider what is happening to immigrants and the distortions that the right to political asylum is undergoing in France alone this fact is manifestly unequivocal. But the defeat stares us in the face even when detached from mere narrow jurisprudence, when considering the actual evolution of the ‘right’ to dispose of basic material means of survival and labor for millions of people in Europe (the unemployed, young and old people, the precarious); the ‘right to difference’ for all kinds of minorities; and the ‘right’ to effective democratic expression for the large majority of peoples. Militants might object that the conflicts related to formal juridical freedoms should not be treated on par with the conquest of new spaces of freedom because only the latter is relevant to concrete struggles (to be fair, this reaction is reminiscing of an era that has long gone). Justice never kept out of the social fray (it never stood over and above social struggles); democracy was always more or less manipulated; there is nothing, no greatness, to be expected from the realm of formal juridical freedom, whilst, on the contrary, everything is still to be done when it comes to new spaces of freedom.

As far as I’m concerned, after taking an interest in the extradition cases and political trials of Bifo, Klauss Croissant, Piperno, Pace, Francois Pain, Toni Negri and others, I was forced to revise my opinion on the importance of these supposedly formal freedoms. Today they seem to me almost completely inseparable from other freedoms ‘on the ground’, to speak like the ethnologists. Now more than ever we must refuse to remain at the level of a global denunciation of bourgeois justice: doing so would be formal indeed. The independence of the judiciary is often really nothing but a decoy; instead of resigning to this and returning to a mythology of spontaneity and the so-called ‘people’s tribunals’, we should think of ways to make it actual. The specialization of social functions and the division of labor are what they are; besides, nothing would seem to justify any expectations of deep changes in public opinion in the short or medium term; and there is no way of hoping that organized societies will manage to do without a judicial apparatus any time soon! This does not mean that we have to accept it as it is, quite the opposite: it is crucial to redefine its mode of development, its competences, its means, and its possible articulations in a democratic environment… To do so struggles for freedoms must also be given new instruments to take us forward:

- Ad hoc interventions in practical affaires where rights and freedoms are undermined; - Longer term activities, such as liaising with groups of lawyers, magistrates, social workers and prisoners … in view of developing alternative forms of systems of justice.

The struggles that defend the respect of the law and the offensive struggles aimed at conquering new realms of freedom are complementary. Both are set to become at least as important as trade union and political struggles, and to influence them more and more. This is the process that is apparently unfolding in France, with the growing role played by organizations such as Amnesty International, the League of Human Rights, France Terre d’Asile, the Cimade.

Despite the above premises we still cannot treat the evolution of freedoms in Europe as something in itself separate from the context of international tensions and world economic crises. But as soon as I mention these two things a new question starts humming in my ears. Should we regard these tensions and crises as causes of the weakening of freedoms, or, inversely, as the outcome of the rise of conservativism and reactionarism that followed the 1960s wave of struggles for freedoms? What I’d like to demonstrate is that our analysis of the tension between East and West and the world crisis would gain considerable grounds if we reconsidered them from the perspective of this question on freedoms.

I sometimes wonder whether in our societies, imprudently known as ‘post-industrial’, these freedoms are not destined to be irreversibly eroded by some kind of global rise in the entropy of social control. But this morose sociologism earns me nothing but days of depression! On dispassionate reflection, I see no reason to blame this repression on the proliferation of the mechanisms of information and communication in the machineries of production and social life. No! What distorts everything is something else! It is not techno-scientific ‘progress’, but the inertia of outmoded social relations: international relations between blocs and this permanent arms race that sucks the blood out of the economy and anaesthetizes its spirits! So I would be inclined to say that the international tension is probably less the result of a fundamental antagonism between two superpowers – as we are led to believe – than a means for them to actually ‘discipline’ the planet. In short, two chief gendarmes hold complementary roles, but not as in a puppet show, because here the blows really hurt! So the overall tension of the system grows and the hierarchical elements of its military, economic, social and cultural wings become exacerbated. Up there, in the Olympus of the Gods of War, much noise and many threats are made – as well as, unfortunately, many very dangerous things too! – so that at the bottom, at all levels, the flunkies are kept silent!

In this respect, the defense of individual and collective freedoms never was a serious issue in the conflict-ridden relations between the East and the West, and this is indicative. With proclamations and the parading of great principles put aside, it becomes apparent how little this issue weights on the important international ‘deals’ (President Carter managed to ridicule himself before the American political class by insisting more than was customary on this subject!). Western leaders would easily accommodate themselves to the techniques of the totalitarian bureaucracy of the Eastern block. And, under surface appearances and behind the ideological and strategic hype they seem to be carrying out similar policies and share the same set of objectives: namely to control individuals and social groups more and more closely and to normalize and integrate them, if possible facing no resistance from them and without them even realizing it – making use of Collective Infrastructures for their formation and ‘maintenance’, of the media to model their thinking and imaginary, and (no doubt in the future) of some sort of permanent computer radio control to allocate a territorial residence and economic trajectory to each on of them. The outcome is there, we can already see it! That is: a growing segregation that generates ethnic, sexual and age discrimination, greater freedom of action for the cast of bosses and managers, and more subservience from the pawns at the foundations of the big capitalist game. The decline of freedoms affecting more or less the whole world is mainly due to the growth of more conservative and functionalist conceptions of the world. These are reactionary but always ready to seize the ‘progress’ of science and technique, to put it at their service. We need to realize that this repression was only made possible by the political conjunction of the western bourgeoisie, ‘socialist’ bureaucracies and the corrupt ‘elites’ of the Third World, which together form a new figure of capitalism that I elsewhere defined as ‘Integrated World Capitalism’.

The crisis and freedoms … Of course they are related! Economic anxiety in itself weighs heavily on the spirits; it inhibits all desire for contestation and can even encourage paradoxical results, such as the shift of a fraction of the communist electorate towards Le Pen’s National Front in France. But, even so, isn’t the presentation of this problem in the mainstream mass media largely distorted? Is this crisis weighing on our freedoms or, rather, is it collective passivity, demoralization, disorientation and the lack of organization of potentially innovative forces to leave the field open for a new ‘wild capitalism’ to convert profit into socially devastating effects? On the one hand, the term ‘crisis’ is particularly ill-suited to denote the nature of the series of catastrophes that has been shaking the world, and primarily the Third World, for the past ten years. On the other hand, it would be completely illegitimate to circumscribe these phenomena to the economic sphere alone. Hundreds of millions of human beings are starving to death, billions of individuals are sinking into misery and despair year after year, and this is presented and explained to us as an economic problem that cannot be forecasted until the end of the crisis! Nothing can be done about it! This crisis falls from the sky; it comes and goes, like the hail of the Hurricane Hortense! Only the omens – these famous and distinguished economists – could possibly have something to say about it. But if there is a place where absurdity turns into infamy, this is it! Because in the end, what need would there be to associate industrial and economic restructuring – applied on a world scale and engaged in the deepest reorganization of the means of production and society – with such a mess? We need a 180 degree turn in the way we think through these problems, and urgently. The political takes precedence over the economic, not the other way around! Even though under present circumstances it would be difficult to assert that the political manufactures the crisis from scratch – in so far as it produces similar effects and catastrophic interactions that people no longer control, for example, between economic devastations and environmental disasters, or, in another realm, between the monetary system and the oil market – there isn’t much more to be held responsible for the most pernicious social effects. And the end of the crisis, or, if you prefer, of this series of disasters, will either be political and social or it won’t happen at all, and humanity will continue to make her way towards who knows what last implosion! Where does Europe stand in all this? Europe is often held up as a land of freedom and culture, so its vocation ought to be to stabilize the relations between the East and the West and initiate the promotion of a new international order between the North and the South. Whilst it is true that its German side recently started revealing all its interests in calming things down, we are still very far from an autonomous and coherent European policy. All the more so as France retreats into its traditional role of the Don Quixote of the protection of Western progress! In fact, Europe’s freedom to act reduces, like shagreen, as it becomes more apparent that Europe is not going to emerge unscathed from this huge attempt at restructuration of world capitalism. Europe’s feet and hands remain tied to the economic and monetary axiomatic strategy of the USA. More than ever, Europe is entangled in what the technocrats claim to be nationalist and statist ‘archaisms’ and all sorts of ‘corporatism’. In order to develop a unitary movement within the people whom it is meant to unite, the European Economic Community has unearthed and deepened the very hatreds we thought had died out for a long time, and to make matters worse the whole of its Mediterranean flank slowly shifts towards an intermediary kind of Third World status.

Freedom is a right, above all! But not a vested right, at least. Concrete freedoms keep fluctuating along the path of power relations according to whether they are renounced or reaffirmed. In this respect, to avoid generalities and abstractions, it would be better to talk about degrees of freedom, or, rather, about differential coefficients of freedom. Human freedom has never existed all in one piece. Even in the borderline case of the solitude of ivory towers, freedom is only established in relation to others – starting from the blocks of identity interjected in the self. In practice, freedoms only unravel in relation to the rights established with close friends and neighbors, in relation to the subordination of those who are in my power, to the effects of intimidation and influence of the authorities that dominate me and, finally, in relation to the rules, codes and laws of different public domains. Just as the status of free citizen was established on the background of generalized slavery in ancient times, so do the freedoms of European white adults with a minimum income at their disposal find their ‘standing’ on the ground of the enslavement of the Third World today, both internally and externally. That is to say, in France, for instance, the most elementary wish to defend the rights of immigrants or protect the right to political asylum, even if devoid of outdated political theories or emanating from simple charity, could end up taking us very far because it puts under question not only the respect of formal rights but a whole conception of the world, of crucial axioms of segregation, racism, withdrawal, ideology of security, and the perspective of a Europe of police rather than a Europe of freedoms…

Respect of human rights in the East as in the West, in the North as in the South; peace and disarmament imposed on states through new waves of ‘pacifist demoralization’; the establishment, amongst the wealthy Third World countries, of relations that share the goal of contributing to the development of human potential: these could be the main international axes of a new social practice for the emancipation and conquest of spaces of freedoms. But these issues cannot feed into a body of meaningful struggles unless those who wish to act on them in practice appreciate the double nature of the obstacles that Integrated World Capitalism opposes to their project, namely:

1) an objective adversity that is constantly evolving due to the accelerated transformations of means of production and social relations; 2) a subjective stupefaction and a veritable industrial production of individual and collective subjectivity, that ensures the most formidable efficiency and obedience.

Before going any further I now wish to recall the conditions that future militant actions and machines of struggle for peace and freedom in all their forms need to be ready for. In my opinion – and I do not claim to have an exhaustive definition and a proposal that is ‘ready to go’ – we need to draw some lessons from the auspicious period of the 1960s and the defeat that followed it. We were naïve, disorganized, indiscriminate and well-informed, sometimes sectarian and narrow-minded, but often visionaries and oriented towards the future; obviously a future that would not resemble the image of our dreams! But I am convinced that we are faced again with a set of problems of method reminiscent of the ones of the struggles and organization of those times, and some lessons can be drawn from experience, the experiences to which some people sacrificed their best years. I see these conditions as follows:

1) New social practices of liberation will not establish hierarchical relations between themselves; their development will answer to a principle of transversality that will enable them to be established by ‘traversing’, as a ‘rhizome’, heterogeneous social groups and interests. The pitfalls to avoid are these:

a – The reconstitution of ‘vanguard’ and major state parties that dictate their law and mould their collective desires in a way that parallels – though formally antagonizes – that of a dominant system. The inefficiency and pernicious character of this kind of dispositif is no longer in need of demonstration; b – The compartmentalization of militant practices and the singling out and separation between practices with political objectives of different scope, from the defense of sectarian interests to the transformation of everyday life … and the separation between, on the one hand, programmatic and theoretical reflection and, on the other hand, an analytics of subjectivity of groups and individuals concretely engaged in action, which is to be invented from scratch.

This character of transversality of new social practices – the refusal of authoritarian disciplines, formal hierarchies, orders of priorities decreed from above, and compulsory ideological references – should not be seen in contradiction with the obviously inevitable, necessary and desirable establishment of centers of decision that use the most sophisticated technologies of communication and aim to maximum efficaciousness if necessary. The whole question here is to promote analytical collective procedures that allow for the dissociation of the work of decision from the imaginary investments of power; these only coincide in capitalist subjectivity because the latter lost its dimensions of singularity and converted into what might be called an Eros of equivalence (little does it matter the nature of my power, since I dispose of a certain capital of abstract power).

2) One of the main goals of new social practices of liberation will be the development of more than a simple protection: collective and/or individual processes of singularization. These are meant to include everything that confers to these initiatives a character of living subjectivation and irreplaceable experience, that ‘is worth being lived’, that ‘gives meaning to life’… After iron decades of Stalinism, numerous returns to power of the social democrats – with the self same scenario of compromise, spinelessness, impotence and defeat – and the narrow minded and dishonest Boy Scout attitude of small groups, militancy ended up being impregnated with a rancid smell of church that has come to arouse a legitimate movement of rejection. Only its reinvention of new themes that start from a dissident subjectivity carried out by groups-subjects will make it possible to conquer again the abandoned terrains currently left to the prefabricated subjectivities of the media and Infrastructures of this new-look capitalism. And here we reiterate the need to invent a collective analytics of different forms of ‘engaged’ subjectivities. In this respect, we do not start completely from scratch. We have much to learn from the way the Greens in Germany or Solidarnosc in Poland have successfully managed to build new forms of militant life. We also have negative and inverse examples, such as the sectarianism of the Basque military ETA or the monstrous terrorist and dogmatic deviations of the Red Brigades in Italy that have inexorably led to the decapitation of the movement of liberation that had indisputably been the richest and most promising in Europe.

I repeat: the only means to avoid this deadly calamity is to provide the means of an analytical management of the processes of singularization or the ‘making dissidence’ of subjectivity.

3) These mutating militant machines for transversal and singularized spaces of freedom will not have any claim to durability. This way, they will come to terms with their intrinsic precariousness and the need for their continuous renewal, supported by a long lasting social movement of great scope.

This will lead them to forge new and large alliances that will make them avoid their most serious infantile disease: a tenacious propensity to experiencing oneself as a minority under siege. Here it is a case of promoting a logic of multivalent alliances, that avoid both the duplicitous combinations of power and the purist and sectarian dynamics of the movements of the 1960s that led to its definitive separation from the population en large. They will need to be sufficiently transversal and open to be able to communicate with social groups whose preoccupations, styles and points of view are very remote from theirs. This will only be possible in so far as they will take responsibility for their finitude and their singularity, and they will free themselves from the perverse myth of the seizing of state power by a vanguard party, without appeal or reservations.

Nobody will seize power in the name of the oppressed! Nobody will confiscate freedoms in the name of freedom. The only acceptable objective now is the seizing of society by society itself. The state! That is another problem. One should not oppose it in a frontal way, nor flirt with its degeneration to smoothen the way of tomorrow’s socialism! In a sense, we have the state we deserve! By this I mean that the state is what remains as the most abject form of power when society has offloaded its collective responsibility. And time will not win over this monstrous secretion by itself; it is primarily organized practices that will enable society to disengage from the collective infantilism to which the media and capitalist infrastructures have condemned it. The state is no exterior monster that one needs to either flee or subdue. It is, starting from ourselves, at the root of our unconscious. We must ‘do with’ it. It is an incontrovertible fact of our life and of our struggle.

Transversality, singularization, and new alliances; here are the three ingredients that I would like to see poured profusely into the pot of freedoms. Then we can see the famous ‘immaturity’ of Europe and its well known ‘archaisms’ change their color. I dream of the day the Basques, the clandestines of Ulster, the Greens of Germany, Scottish and Welsh miners, immigrants, Polish pseudo-Catholics, Southern Italians and the nameless packs of dogs who refuse to understand or know anything that is offered to them will start screaming together: ‘Yes, we are all archaic and you can put your modernity where you want!’ So the passivity and demoralization will turn into a will to freedom and freedom into a material force that is able to change the course of a nasty history.