Tactical openness: against reformism and revolution

by Arran James

From Platypus Review #55

Norbert Trenkle. [note: Trenkle is a member of The Krisis Group].

I would like to stress the need to overcome the conception of resistance as micropolitics, and instead refocus on the totality. The terms “reform” and “revolution” have become deeply infected by the logic of capital. In fact, they are a reflex of the consolidation of capitalism, and for that reason no longer useful for the supersession of capitalism. Their meanings have changed too: Reform today means the cutback of social rights, of the rights of workers, or in other words, a thorough economization of society. And revolution implies nothing more than the overthrow of some authoritarian regimes to make way for free markets or, at best, an attempt to introduce democratic rights.

By this, I don’t mean to say that these terms have simply become suffused by neoliberal dogma, although they are rather closely connected with the social process of bourgeois society, in that they are subjected to the historical trajectory of the continued expansion and permanently revolutionizing means of production. However, this basic process has become a metaphysically bloated conception of philosophy of history, particularly in its classical formulation, with its emphasis on progress. Marxism, on the other hand, already regards bourgeois society as a transitory phase, directed toward a higher social formation. “Reform” and “revolution” stand in the tradition of this conception of progress and refer to it. Despite the fact that those two terms are antagonistic, they both share similar points of reference and are closely related, since they both imagine that the historical process is pushing them forward. We need to liberate ourselves from this metaphysical conception of social transformation as it is infected with the real metaphysics of bourgeois society.

By real metaphysics I mean that our actions are already anticipated by unconscious processes, or in other words, what Marx calls the “fetish,” a reification of social relations which rules over people. Liberation or emancipation can thus only mean a liberation in terms of the unconsciously presupposed that rules over people although they are their own social relations. This also implies that emancipation cannot be formulated with metaphysical or historico-philosophical categories.

Bourgeois-capitalist society has reached its limits. This, however, is not a historico-teleological interpretation but the result of the immanent contradictions of capitalism. This process does not point into some beyond, but rather to the fact that the limits have been reached. We are at a point at which we are forced to confront the question of what will follow next, since we are in a situation in which the whole of capitalist society has been formed through these contradications, and not only in its objective structures but also in its structures of consciousness. This means that there are no prerequisites for emancipation that we can relate to—these prerequisites have to be created first. Likewise, there is no presupposed “us,” no prior subject, but this “us” has to be created first through our reified consciousness.

The question of tactics and forms of protest poses itself anew once we become aware of the limits to our own consciousness. The same is true for the problem of immanence and transcendence, or, in other words, what kinds of immanent demands can be raised while at the same time pointing to the transcendence of this society. Neither the tactic nor the form of protest is the problem but rather the question what our cause is all about. First, there needs to be a negative identification of the liberation from this reified process, and secondly an appropriation of material wealth. The crisis of bourgeois society has emanated from the paradoxical fact that this society is too rich. Therefore, the answer to the question of what our cause is all about is access to material wealth and an emancipation from this form of value, for only then can forms of actions and tactics be determined anew.