Felix Guattari on The Function of Autonomy

by Arran James

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.