Contrary to the expectations of Hegelian Marxism, social struggle does not follow any dialectic of progress, but always coagulates from scratch in discontinuous “events”. Such events, as in 1789, 1848, and 1917, do not elevate history to a “higher level”; instead, they “interrupt” its progress. As such, revolutions are extremely rare “historical finds”. At present, there is no revolutionary option. Furthermore, the 20th century has inevitably led to the experience that any attempt at establishing a different society will eventually mutate into a power-project, a rule of regime. Yet then again, this knowledge of radicalism should not lead to the kind of “pessimistic anthropologies” with which conservatives have always legitimized exploitation and oppression. Not in spite, but because of its tendency toward authoritarian ossification, real radicalism must always turn against itself. This turn against oneself does not only lead to a refusal of transcendence, but also attacks any form of rule (not of power). Thus, it refrains from connecting the critique of the totalitarian disfigurement of the revolution with an affirmation of the established order of things.
Every social space is structured by power-relations. Since society is constantly reproduced and changed through the mutual power-relations of its subjects, the constituent power-economies are always at risk and threat. There is no power with resistance, without exit, without the possibility of reversal. In light of the inescapable question as to power, it becomes increasingly implausible to subscribe to those theories of power that are only founded upon the terms and the logic of institutions. This why Michel Foucault suggests using the forms of resistance to the different types of power as a point of departure for exploring the specific power-forms of subjectivity. From this perspective, one clearly discern three types of social struggle that have emerged during the 20th century: a) against forms of rule, be they motivated religiously, ethnically, or socially, b) against forms of exploitation, which separates the individual from what s/he produces, and c) against everything that chains the individual to itself and thus subjects it to oppression through others.
Since the revolt of 1968 at the very latest, social struggle has been dominated by the battle with the “forms of subjectivity”. Of course, this does not mean that rule and exploitation have disappeared as motives for revolts, since the modes of subjectification are coupled to conflict in social areas such as economy or law. The fact that the struggle against subjectification will gain the upper hands is a result of the fundamental process of the state’s spreading control of all circumstances and areas of life. In thinking this control, however, it is important to emancipate oneself from the image of the state as a rigid apparatus. Quite on the contrary, today’s state is a contemporary, “fluid” technology of power, which implements the socialization of individuals through their very modes of subjectification. It rests upon the voluntary actions of people who feel ethically bound to apply the norms of the law to themselves. To oppose this kind of “self-government”, one needs to bring new forms of subjectivity to light by refusing the kind of individualism that has been imposed upon subjectivity for centuries, that is, the subordination of the subject to a set of morals that operate according to the logical of sacrifice and self-denial.
Nevertheless, resisting the established order of things is quite contradictory, especially for nonconformist intellectuals, which is how we think of ourselves. First of all, we work and produce under conditions that are typical for flexible capitalism. Regardless of our respective activities, we attempt to practice effective risk-management: we keep improving our qualifications, stay mobile, jumping from one activity to the next, combining a variety of fields in our work. These strategies all entail a number of consequences. The first consequence consists in the increasing self-control of work itself, i.e. growing individual responsibility, even within structures that formally impose some degree of outside control. Second of all, flexible strategies lead to broadened self-economization or strategic marketing of one’s own human resources. Third of all, they set in motion a process of self-rationalization and economization of one’s entire way of life, making work and play indiscernible from one another.
In short, we are the ideal regular clients for the “New Economy”. Post-Fordian values like productivity or flexibility ? which we continue to condemn as disciplinary norms imposed by the system ? have become our second nature. In a sense, we eve function as this regime’s avant-garde, forging ever-new paths for its development. As the paradigm of productivity structures the social positions with the “scene” to a greater degree, we become masters at sublime instrumentalization, using other individuals for our own calculated ends.
Under flexible capitalism, nonconformist values like autonomy or self-realization seem to have molted or blossomed into a stimulating essence. If one follows the diagnoses of Zizek or Deleuze, the self-realizing individual functions especially well as a subject in the sense of someone who is subject to rule. Emotions, experiences and creativity, qualities once mobilized again Fordist capitalism, have all become important raw materials in an “affective economy”. Obviously, nonconformism is now either a stimulatory productive force or a denatured object of consumption and distinction. So we have every right to be suspicious: maybe we are a part of the problem, and not ? as we used to think ? a part of its solution?