2009/01/10

There is no scope for futurology; history will decide’: Félix Guattari on Molecular Revolution

ideas for MovemEnt T URbulence __ Guattari and Brazil. DIg it Daddio.



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Rodrigo Nunes and Ben Trott examine Félix Guattari’s trip to Brazil in the early 1980s, and the way he analysed the transformations taking place at the time, asking: how can they resonate with the experiences of today?

[Read this as a PDF here (recommended)]



-- interview :


Sonia Goldfeder: In your view, how does the participation of minority groups in a process of social mutation take place? Should they be coopted by society as a whole, or should they remain apart in order to maintain their difference?

Guattari: It’s necessary to distinguish two levels of reality. Firstly, the level of present reality, in which minority groups are marginalized— their ideas and their way of life are repressed and rejected. Secondly, the level of another reality, where there is a linking up of the left, and where these groups are taken into account, listened to, and have some weight in society. Homosexual groups, for example, obtain new legislation, or groups of psychiatrized people question current methods. All this forms part of a normal, traditional logic of power relations, pressure groups, and so on. Does this mean a cooptation of everything that’s dissident in the movement? That’s the kind of thing I can’t answer. Will Lula’s PT coopt the whole dissident movement that can be seen in part of its grassroots support? I hope not. I only know that among the final points of the PT program there’s one that speaks specifically about “respect for autonomy.” This kind of affirmation in a political program is extraordinary. I’ve never seen it anywhere.

To reject this attempt because of a fear of cooptation isn’t justified in the name of an incapacity to completely express our desire in the situation, in the name of a mythical ethics of autonomy, in the name of the cult of spontaneity. This is an attempt of great importance (…).

Question: Don’t you think it’s a bit over-optimistic to consider that this kind of good faith by the parties in relation to autonomy is possible?

Guattari: There’s always the risk that the parties will crush the minorities. It’s not a matter of optimism or pessimism, but of a fundamental, definitive questioning about all the systems of party, union, group, and sectarian group involved in the course of a liberation struggle. There’s nothing that provides an a priori guarantee that they won’t again transmit the dominant models in this field. Not their program, nor the good faith of their leaders, nor even their practical, concrete commitment to minorities. So what might intervene to prevent this kind of “entropy” (a term that I don’t much like, but I’ll use it) in this field? Precisely the establishment of devices (which we can call whatever we like—analytic devices, devices of molecular revolution, of singularization, and so on), devices on the scale of the individual or the group, or even broader combinations, which would make us raise the issue of the collective formations of desire.

Luiz Swartz: I would like to make an observation. It seems to me that the great paradox in your whole explanation lies in the question of the coexistence of parties with autonomous movements. In your first statement you said that certain kinds of struggle should be routed through that kind of organization, the parties. And that another kind of struggle takes place autonomously. And now you’ve put the question in terms of the party being an instrument that has to be used at a certain point, and not used again afterwards. It seems to me that there’s something very important here: perhaps there’s an incorrect evaluation of the strength of the party. The party, in my opinion, doesn’t lend itself to being used as an instrument, because it eventually acquires a bureaucratized, disciplinary dynamic of its own that practically prevents the continuity of these molecular struggles.

Guattari: I think the treatment of these issues calls for great prudence, because history shows us that this kind of view can have disastrous consequences. First of all, I would like you to understand that I’m not saying that the PT is the eighth wonder of the world (…). I know that there are many problems precisely in relation to the articulation of these minorities with a certain relatively traditional conception of organization. I also know that a trace of what I would call “leaderism” is being established, leaderism that is embodied in the media, and that triggers off a whole series of mechanisms, precisely in the field of collective subjectivity. This, of course, always introduces a certain risk of reification of subjective processes. However, when all is said and done, I believe that even so, there is great novelty, great experimentation, in what is being done here in the PT. It’s not my place to give lessons on revolution, for the good reason that, in my view, there are no possible lessons in this field. Nevertheless, there is at least one thing that I think Europe can try to transmit: the experience of our failures.

In France, after 1968, there was an intense movement of waves of molecular revolution on all levels (…). But the problem was that none of those modes of action was able to pass to another level of struggle. The only link with that other level of struggle, the struggle of other sectors of the population, continued to be the old systems of sectarian groups, the old party and union systems. What happened was that the nonintellectuals who took part in those movements became intellectuals of a kind during the experiments. So there was a gradual agglutination of those nonintellectuals—some militant immigrants, for example, who, by the very nature of the movement, eventually became isolated from the rest of the immigrant population. (…) The problem with this kind of experiment does not have to do with the establishment of an intensive contact between intellectuals and a particular group. But if those groups are actually isolated from all the other social movements, if there is an absence of essential links, they eventually lead to processes of specialization and degeneration. It’s like a kind of wave ceaselessly breaking on itself.

What I think is important in Brazil, therefore, is the fact that the question of an organization capable of confronting political and social issues on a large scale is not going to be raised after some great movement of emancipation of minorities and sensibilities, because it’s being raised now, at the same time. It is clear that it isn’t a question of creating some kind of collective union in defense of the marginal, a common program, or some kind of reductive unifying front. That would be utterly stupid, because it certainly isn’t a question of the minorities and marginal groups making an agreement or adopting the same program, the same theory, or the same attitudes.

That would take us back to the old mass movement conceptions of the socialists and the communists. It’s not a question of adopting a programmatic logic, but a “situational logic.” On the other hand, it also doesn’t mean that tendencies seeking to affirm their singularity should abandon machines such as that of the PT. If that happened, gradually we would find only one kind of singularity in the PT: that of the “hard line” professional militants (…). That’s where the problem lies. Of course, I’m not trying to outline a philosophy of this issue. But it seems to me that it’s necessary to invent a means that allows the coexistence of these two dimensions. Not just a practical means, a means of real intervention in the field, but also a new kind of sensibility, a new kind of reasoning, a new kind of theory.

Néstor Perlongher: I think that not enough importance is being given here to the problem of political statements, in the following sense: the big problem of the connection of these small micropoliticalmovements (…) is the statement with which those micropolitical movements are articulated. If this is true, I think that the power of those declarations is being underestimated. The conventional guy, whether he’s a worker or not, becomes totally unglued when a pretty, intellectual fag appears, speaking on behalf of the PT. A guy like that isn’t going to connect with this kind of statement. (…) So what I ask is: up to what point are we from the micropolitical, minority, molecular movements going to defend these archaic statements like democratic censorship, or the reduction of the idea of revolution to a modification of the economy, which leads, as has been seen, to overexploitation and superdictatorship?

Guattari: I don’t suppose you’re going to prepare a notebook of complaints for Lula, asking him for proof that he has an accurate conception of what the fate of homosexuals, blacks, women, the psychiatrized, and so on is going to be. What Lula has to be asked is to contribute to the overthrow of all molar stratifications as they exist now. As for everything else, each person has to assume his responsibilities in the position he’s assembled socially. I don’t think that Lula is the “Father of the Oppressed,” or the “Father of the Poor,” but I do think that he’s performing a fundamental role in the media, and that’s essential at this point in the electoral campaign. He’s the vehicle of an extremely important vector of dynamics in the current situation, such as the well-known power that he has to mobilize people who are totally apolitical. In this respect, Lula is not identifiable with the PT. The role that Lula is performing in the media is very important, because nowadays one can’t consider the struggles at all the levels without considering this factor of the production of subjectivity by the media.

Suely Rolnik: I’ve been thinking about how the book should deal with the considerable space that the discussions about the PT took up during the trip. Perhaps it isn’t appropriate to reproduce the “electoral campaign” facet, for the simple reason that it’s no longer a topical issue. But at the same time, it could be important to do so as long as it’s in a way that reveals, and even emphasizes, what in my view was central in your investment in the PT: not to focus on the PT itself, as something sacred, but on the kind of device that the PT represented at that time. A device that made possible the expression of issues concerning formations of desire in the social field; and, above all, a device that made possible the articulation of that plane of reality with the plane of the struggles that require broad social and political agglutinations. I would even say that the agglutination of these two planes was the leading figure in your campaign for the PT. What was unusual about your position was precisely the fact that you called attention to the need and possibility for that articulation to take place. And throughout the trip you never stopped recalling the fact that, recently, this tendency to downplay the broader social struggles has caused damage at least as serious as the disregard for the problematics related to desire.

In addition to having made it possible to highlight this kind of issue, the discussions about the campaign also helped us to tune in to the frequency of a completely deterritorialized official political voice in the voice of Lula (a kind of free radio station, but with the peculiarity of broadcasting directly from within the official media). Those discussions also helped to make it possible to see, in the PT at that time, a collective assemblage that was drawing the political scene outside its traditional domain. In short, a “war machine.” But now things are different. In addition to the fact that we are no longer in the electoral campaign, there’s no guarantee that the PT still is and is still going to be that device, which makes the presence of this element in the book questionable, at least with that emphasis. That’s why I was saying that it would only be interesting to preserve it in order to share the understanding that the existence of this kind of device is essential in order to make the processes of singularization less vulnerable. Therefore it’s necessary to be sensitive to its emergence in a great variety of social fields—not only in political parties, of course, and not only in the PT.

Guattari: It seems to me important that the problems of the organization and the constitution of a new kind of machine for struggle should be concealed as little as possible. Even as a failure—which, after all, may not be the case—it seems to me that the experience of the PT is primordial. How can we make the new components of subjectivity emerge on a national scale (in terms of the media)? What is important here is not the result, but the emergence of the problematics. There is no scope for futurology; history will decide. There are two possibilities: either the PT will be completely contaminated by the virus of sectarianism, in which case each autonomous component will “make tracks,” and the PT can go to hell; or else the process that seems to be being triggered off in some places will tend to neutralize these sectarian-style components, and it may even happen, according to Lula’s hypothesis, that, depending on the strength of the movements, those components may eventually dissolve. Everything will depend on the local circumstances and the usefulness or not of the instrument of the PT. If all this goes “down the drain,” if the PT becomes another PMDB and Lula becomes a leader of heaven knows what, then that’s it, it’s over. It would only mean that the consistency of the process didn’t take hold in this kind of assemblage, and that the struggles of molecular revolution will continue through other paths.

If we insist on dealing with the problems of a political practice from a classical viewpoint—a tendency, a group, or a method of organization versus autonomous groups that do not want to know about leaders, or to articulate themselves—we shall find ourselves in a total impasse, because we shall be revolving around an eternal debate that sets modes of apprehension of the domain of centralism against “spontaneism” or anarchism, considered as sources of generosity and creativity, but also of disorder, incapable of leading to true transformations. It does not seem to me that the opposition is this—between a supremely efficient, centralized, functional device on the one hand, and autonomy on the other.

The dimension of organization is not on the same plane as the issue of autonomy. The issue of autonomy belongs to the domain of what I would call a “function of autonomy,” a function that can be embodied effectively in feminist, ecological, homosexual, and other groups, but also—and why not?—in machines for large-scale struggle, such as the PT. Organizations such as parties or unions are also terrains for the exercise of a “function of autonomy.” Let me explain: the fact that one acts as a militant in a movement allows one to acquire a certain security and no longer feel inhibition and guilt, with the result that sometimes, without realizing it, in our actions we convey traditional models (hierarchical models, social welfare models, models that give primacy to a certain kind of knowledge, professional training, etc.). That is one of the lessons of the 1960s, a period when, even in supposedly liberating actions, old clichés were unconsciously reproduced. And it is an important aspect for consideration, because conservative conceptions are utterly unsuitable for developing processes of emancipation.

The question, therefore, is not whether we should organize or not, but whether or not we are reproducing the modes of dominant subjectivation in any of our daily activities, including militancy in organizations. It is in these terms that the “function of autonomy” must be considered. It is expressed on a micropolitical level, which has nothing to do with anarchy, or with democratic centralism. Micropolitics has to do with the possibility that social assemblages may take the productions of subjectivity in capitalism into consideration, problematics that are generally set aside in the militant movement.

In my view, it is necessary to try to construct a new kind of representation, something that I call a new cartography. It is not just about a simple coexistence of centralized apparatuses and processes of singularization, because, at the end of the day, the Leninists always had the very same discourse: on one side the Party, the Central Committee, and the Politburo, and on the other, the mass organizations, where everyone does his own little job, everyone cultivates his garden. And between them are the “transmission belts”: a hierarchy of tasks, a hierarchy of instruments of struggle, and, in fact, an order of priority that always leads to manipulation and control of the struggles of molecular revolution by the central apparatuses.

The construction of machines for struggle, war machines, which we need in order to overthrow the situations of capitalism and imperialism, cannot have only political and social objectives that form part of a program embodied by certain leaders and representatives. The function of autonomy is not that of a simple degree of tolerance in order to sweeten centralism with a pinch of autonomy. Its function is what will make it possible to capture all impulses of desire and all intelligences, not in order to make them converge on a single arborescent central point, but to place them in a huge rhizome that will traverse all social problematics, both at a local or regional level and at a national or international level.


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