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#6: Revolution or Resistance

Oxana Timofeeva // Revolution, oy, oy, oy! (Trotskyite meeting chant)

One of the most tragic episodes in the history of resistance took place long before our time. It was described by Sophocles. The royal couple, condemned by oracular prophecy: the son will kill his father and marry his mother. To evade the will of the gods, they put the infant to death. But he survived. In his youth, he too visited the oracle, which revealed the will of the gods as the true source of his identity. Of course, he had to leave his foster parents, which he thought to be his own up until the oracle’s revelation. Everyone knows what happened next.

Until, the scene is vivid: Oepidus stands at the crossroads, trying desperately to choose the path that leads away. Even though he is under fate’s control completely, he still wants to hoodwink providence somehow, to resist, but his actions only help to seal his brutal fate, which has very little to do with anything like justice or freedom.

One of the most tragic episodes in the history of resistance took place long before our time. It was described by Sophocles. The royal couple, condemned by oracular prophecy: the son will kill his father and marry his mother. To evade the will of the gods, they put the infant to death. But he survived. In his youth, he too visited the oracle, which revealed the will of the gods as the true source of his identity. Of course, he had to leave his foster parents, which he thought to be his own up until the oracle’s revelation. Everyone knows what happened next.

Until, the scene is vivid: Oepidus stands at the crossroads, trying desperately to choose the path that leads away. Even though he is under fate’s control completely, he still wants to hoodwink providence somehow, to resist, but his actions only help to seal his brutal fate, which has very little to do with anything like justice or freedom.

Very little has changed since Sophocles’ time, excepting the conditions of possibility under which the myth is produced. The place once occupied by fate in the Greek tragedy, by the “will of the gods”, has now been taken by capital, which casts a grey shadow of monetary mass over us all. Should it collapse, it would bury the entire world under its ruins. We can resist this will eternally if we admit that it exists at all. Its very existence, insofar as we recognize that it exists, forces us to resist – bound up in its logic completely.

Revolution is not reactive resistance (to capital as fate); it is not simply negation, but a violent, arbitrary, positive action that constitutes a new world, a different fate, another will. This action defies the principle of reality, since it presents a serious risk: there is no guarantee that anything will ever be the same. To keep the things the way they are is the unconscious motive of resistance (to global capital, for an example), either discarding or deeply repressing any idea of revolution, whose ideal is transformed into some vague, unreachable horizon.

The critique of the “resistant discourse” that I am suggesting has an immanent character. (At least, there is no judgement from above, no de-nunciation, no rigid negation). I myself take part and will continue to take part in producing and reproducing this discourse, but this does not mean that it is not in need of criticism. The means of production have to be revolutionized, in order to avoid their transformation into an “oy, oy, oy”. From time to time, it is necessary to liberate these means of production from these all-encompassing quoation marks and their conventions of benevolent understanding.

Above all else, the revolution happens in philosophy, in science, in language. At some point, their optics change definitively, and that’s it, the world already looks like a completely different place. (Wasn’t this, for an example, the case with the transition for Euclydian geometry to the geometry of Lobachevsky?) Revolution in language, especially in philosophy, really does change the world. Yet at the same time, “resistant discourse” arises and develops within the world of capitalism, whose existance only comes into view through its specific certain optics: no one can live outside of its commodity-money relations; like the Greeks, we are bound to the will of the gods. The revolution begins with a radical change in these optics: within a second, we don’t even remember that things were different before the change occured. Both the past and the future turn out to be myths: the past is a myth of the gods, while the future is the myth of communism.

The Communist revolution is founded up a complete disavowal of the “will of the gods”, with all of its “incest taboos” and the consequent pressure toward breaking the prohibitions, as well as the resistance toward this pressure, since it takes the institution of this “divine will” (capital) to change the human dream of happiness and freedom into a form that is monstruous and perverse, which claims the following: working toward a society in harmony is replaced by the naturalization of crime (as if humanity were wicked, and Oedipus was “fated” to incest and murder). This is why it is indecent, unpleasant and illegitimate to talk about revolution, even among intellectuals from the Left.

Resistance to global capitalism is simultaneously resistance to revolution. To put it in psychoanalytical terms, opposition does not mean contradiction. Freud was surprised to discover that “the patient puts up bitter, persistant resistance […] to the doctor in the interests of his illness”. “One may have called the dentist because of an intolerable toothache, but one will still push away his hand when it comes closer to the inflamed tooth with his pliars.” Contemporary resistance mistakenly struggle against the symptom, rather than the illness itself – by standing up for better, more comfortable conditions of subordination, the Left maneauvers itself into a dead-end. It represses the idea of a revolutionary power take-over into something transcendant.

The associative reference to the theory of psychoanalysis provides us with the possibility for turning the Left inside out, in order to reveal its repressed Other, a rather unpleasant figure, who voice should be heard.

“You see, we understand
that if
hypothetically
revolution
takes place after all,
IT WILL ONLY BE WORSE.

This is why we attempt to slighly improve THIS world, instead of destroying it and losing what we have.”

The unspoken truth of “resistant discourse” is the idea of a real revolution as a complete collapse (even when it still exists as an ideal), and, correspondinly, the subconcious urge to avoid it at any cost by gaining a few social guarantees in this world. The participants in resistance from the Left slowly but surely join the capitalist fray for new markets for their increasingly utopian and intellectualized intellectual products, applying business-strategies to neutralize their competitors, disassociating themselves and finally departing completely from the idea of total revolutionary integration. Having identifed ourselves through resistance, we begin to stutter with what is obviously hopelessness and ambiguity when we talk about revolution, as if in reality it couldn’t be anything but negation and chaos. In how far does our position respond to worsening conditions by opening a cognitive breach, in which revolution can appear, leaving us face to face with the emptiness and vanity of resistance?

Freud understood resistance as “an agreggate of the self, set into motion in order to fight against change”. In the case of the contemporary Left, this is all the more justified, since the resistant self already represents a product of the bourgeois system, a pathological self, a product of illness, the Oedipal self, produced by the will of the gods (you are who is destined to commit a crime!).

Needless to say, capitalism is bringing up its own gravediggers, but the problem is that these gravediggers are always at risk of falling into the pit they were just digging. Capitalism calls upon us to participate in its reproduction as resistant elements, rewarding us with the feeling of our own uniqueness and with the possibility of continuing to act without ever actually changing anything on a systemic level. Bataille criticized capitalism for the total character of its productions and accumulations. In the three last decades, this characterization has shifted toward consumerism, assimilating the luxury of conspicous consumption and making it part of the productive-accumulative process. Wearing a t-shirt with “CCCP” or Ché Guevara could also be understood as a cultivated form of resistance: it ridicules all of us as a dry remainder of the joyous narcissism in “resisting without revolution”. The unspoken contract of the Left, according to which we can never really even speak of revolution, is a false document that we should refuse to follow.

 

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