The Critical Metaphysicians beneath the “Unemployed Persons’ Movement”
It’s well understood: there is no “unemployed persons’ movement.” The good fortune that this phrase had immediately within a certain spectacular leftism, where it had already been a figure of historical reference, demonstrates that sufficiently, since nothing named by the Spectacle has any chance of bringing any kind of contestation to bear against it. Moreover, one would have to be in the terminal phase of some nephritic Trotskyism or other, or otherwise aspiring to some position in the joint management of human misery to fail to acknowledge that the very concept of a “movement,” and a fortiori of a “social movement” has no other content besides the operations that they permit: a general rendering equivalent of all intentions on the basis of a generalized fidgeting quite in compliance with the ends that commodity nihilism commands. That some swarm of human beings with a pretense to critique gets labeled as a “movement” must in the future be considered as an irrefutable proof of its innocuousness; that is, in the present configuration of hostilities, as a manifestation of an intimate connivance with domination. There will certainly be no lack of fidgeters to object to the fact that we aren’t dealing here with any particular movement, but with the “unemployed persons’ movement,” a strictly determined object, and to put it another way, an empirical one. But the unfortunate thing, in this instance, is that the concept of “unemployed worker” is just as stripped of all meaning as is the concept of “movement,” and that their coupling, in the absence of some miracle or another, is hardly gifted with many genesic virtues. Whoever consents to take the slightest glance can easily see that the concept of “unemployed worker” doesn’t express any real attribute in particular, but on the contrary the absence of an attribute, the fact of not working, that it specifies nothing, nothing positive at least, nothing existent. An individual can only be labeled as “not working” within a society where to work, that is, to enter into a certain type of domination-relations, is the norm. The concept of “unemployed worker” thus has in the last resort nothing to do with any tangible, isolable reality, it just expresses the obligation to work, and the fact that this obligation, in commodity society, is operative on the individual level. The innocent little maneuver where the lack of a given quality transforms into being itself a particular quality, and non-belonging to a category becomes a distinct category of its own has in fact nothing neutral about it at all; it is precisely that which gives the foundation to the whole exorbitant power of constraint in the world of the authoritarian commodity.
Santa Claus indignantly insists: “The unemployed persons’ movement is garbage!”
“More profoundly, here at the end of 1998, the opinion that for the most part went through a revival this year has shown itself to be less receptive and has not let itself be distracted from the preparation of its festive events. Furthermore the novelty effect that the media are generally so fond of, which the unemployed persons’ movement benefited from in 1997, has gone flat. The welfare occupations have appeared to have so totally gotten a ‘makeover’ that the government has taken great care this year to not let these kinds of actions come about.”
(Le Monde, December 31st 1998)
Even in the context of an accelerated disintegration of the classical wage system, the notion of “unemployed person” remains doubtless a war machine of the highest caliber in domination’s arsenal; however, there its use is flipped upside-down. From being a weapon of attack, it has now gone into use as a defensive apparatus, and now serves to prevent the eruption into commodity Publicity of the alarming inflation of its negation: Bloom. For the time being, the crisis of labor, which at a certain point managed, as an ethos, to substitute itself for all singular ethos, must be understood as a crisis of domination, which only imperfectly controls – with its present means – what subsists outside of labor; that is, outside of its influence over appearances. The “jobless person,” the “precarious worker,” the this-less people, the that-less people, are just so many masks that the Spectacle imposes on the Blooms when they try to openly [unmaskedly] force open the doors of Publicity. The “excluded” thus can be included, precisely as excluded. But the growing haste and tactlessness with which people ban the bare man, mankind as human beings, from access to an acknowledged existence, indicate with certainty that there’s a crack in the very heart of social appearances. Certainly, the ordinary recipe for preserving the regime of separation, which consists in sociologizing metaphysics, in making what is in fact the truth for everyone appear as if it were just a particular fraction of the population, still provides significant service, but to be duped by that requires a faculty of illusion that our contemporaries appear to be less and less capable of. And so, with the exception of an inexorable handful of assholes, the feeling that we’re inhabiting our own lives like sparrows in the Montparnasse train station, as exiles, has tended to spread among all mankind. This is what the forces of concealment have a heavy interest in hiding behind some harmless and noisy “unemployed persons’ movement.”
A new race of assholes: the managers of misery
“There were more than 30,000 of us at the demonstration this morning. I don’t want to shine your shoes or nothing, but I really find you quite extraordinary. I’m proud of you. Proud to be in charge of the poor people’s union.” (Charles Hoareau, leader of the CGT unemployed persons’ committees in Bouches-du-Rhône, quoted by Libération, December 4th 1998)
If the “unemployed persons’ movement” were in spite of all related to any reality at all, it certainly wouldn’t resemble in any way what people would like to understand by that – an adventure in contestation. Because before assuming its autonomy as a spectacular creature, the latter had to be born from one as a surprise event within domination, that is, in less oracular terms, of a conflict of interests, and as a conflict of interests between union putrefactions, having to do with the management and monopolizing of the gigantic masses of money that circulate around the welfare allocations and their distribution. As for their unexpected duration, it must be imputed to another kind of competition, this time between the classic, decomposing unionism – although it suffices to merely glance a bit at the methods of the CGT-unemployed or SUD to remember that in effect “in history as in nature, decomposition is the laboratory of life” (Marx) – and the young emerging bureaucracies of associations like AC!, Droits Devant!, DAL, etc., who’ve pop up with a highly suspicious spontaneity to cauterize one by one all the new wounds of the social disaster, as licensed specialists, demanding in exchange a few crumbs and a little recognition. In all this hullabaloo, all this merry mess, there’s not even the shadow of any contradiction, and above all in the rotting role playing that “opposed” the bosses’ government regarding the 35 hour work-week, an obvious plagiarism of the most burlesque exploits of the Comité des Forges in the 20s. And so if the “unemployed persons’ movement” was anything at all, it was but that and nothing else. For those who know the kind of fanaticism that our contemporaries so enjoy putting into their submission, there’s no doubt that domination can afford to have a movement like that every winter, and maybe even a few at a time.
However, something did happen, on the margins of this ever-so artistically mastered orchestration, which even went beyond it at many points. It was something that didn’t start with the “unemployed persons’ movement” and didn’t end with it. Something that can’t be named, and that all the critical metaphysicians participated in, in one way or another. Lasting a number of weeks, assemblies gathered in the Jussieu amphitheaters that could only be defined by their suspensory refusal to define themselves, or more probably the impossibility of their doing so. There’s no room here to say more. It will suffice for the reader to know that neither patient discussions, nor actions carried out in common, nor even the shared hostility towards this society were enough to overcome the separation; the first consequence of this was the assemblies’ powerlessness to delimit themselves, but above all – and this is a more serious problem – to designate their enemy. It goes without saying that external circumstances and the isolation of the assembly were not uninvolved in this, as was our failure to make ourselves understood. Since then, the problem of constituting a collective subject has remained the only question that we have deserved in any way to be measured by. Transcending Bloom; such is the task. All Critical Metaphysics tends towards this exclusive goal, and it is in that light alone that we may be read, in all honesty. Our perspective is purely practical. Nothing in the world besides the spectacle of paralysis into which thirty years of emaciated thinking have ended up leading critical activity could explain the need and reason behind our theoretical investigations. The question of community, which from now on poses itself as the stakes of the free creation of an autonomous Common, is the only issue that can bring us out of nihilism through social contestation. And as long as it speaks the language of domination, as long as it doesn’t put itself explicitly on the metaphysical terrain, it will hardly deserve more than the mere curiosity that one might legitimately feel when faced with this unusual form of fascination with lost causes. We have to start from the historical pre-emption of the totality of commodity categories and of the world they build. “It is not an indifferent matter whether we forget metaphysical concepts or obstinately prolong their use without examining them.” (Heidegger) – a text entitled Fragments of a Theoretical Discourse, to appear in Tiqqun number 2, will be dedicated to just such a clarification of the strategic function of the metaphysical categories in force in the management and organization of social misery. And so for the concept of “work” for example, which is no longer anything more than an empty form susceptible to indifferently containing any kind of manifestation at all in its definitive abstraction, and is thus appropriate to none – the proof being that the Negriists can even include in it the breastfeeding of newborns by their mothers (they then poetically talk about “producing infants” without even having needed to read Swift), and that people can knock themselves out trying to replace it with “employment,” or even “employability.” Since the element of self-production that participation in social functioning was once able to contain has totally evaporated, work appears at last for what it really is: a contingent, limited, and confusional mode of disclosure, a fallacious qualification for pure servitude. If the affirmation that “there’s no more work” has any meaning, it’s not because it’s becoming harder and harder to get yourself exploited, but because now there’s nothing left but jobless negativity and negativity-less jobs. From this point of view, any contestation that already considers itself sufficiently radical to be able to limit itself to a critique of work, which regardless domination has already domesticated by and large, is falling behind the new mutations of capitalism. We have to take as our point of departure – and it is on this level we consider ourselves to have a chance of confronting the enemy – that work does not exist, outside of the system of domination’s representations, that is, another mode of reality-disclosure, true community, needs to be invented through war. It’s not about exterminating the dominators, or espousing the cause of the dominated from the lofty heights of the sociology chair at the College of France, but of destroying a world where certain Blooms exist as the dominators and others, the majority, as the dominated. For the rest, we can just let the slaves – whether of trotskyist, negriist, or bourdieuian obedience – go on disputing the straw men of their servitude.
The defeat of what we took part in designates negatively a task to be accomplished. Only those who understand it as such can inherit this infinite debt. To the attention of those that don’t think themselves free of the duty to carry into the future the “tradition of the oppressed,” we hereby reproduce two texts that were distributed during this short campaign of agitation [Marginal Considerations on the Present Movement and The Jobless Speak]. The first, distributed in the second week of our practical engagement, exposed an analysis that nothing that has come afterwards has yet contradicted. One of our weaknesses is that we believe that in spite of formulations which in places are naïve and have since been surpassed by us, it sketches out a position which at all points remains ours. The second was distributed to the employees of the INSEE [statistics and economic studies institute] on Friday the 13th of March, by forty of our comrades, invited to a luncheon there. Its interest lies in the fact that it constitutes the remaining traces of a direct attack on those that manufacture the form of appearance of the alienated social totality. We have as a indication of how hardly susceptible to the procedure they were the fact that we were called “Le Pen-ist Pol Pots” by the big despot around there because of its content. It goes without saying that the faculties that we engaged in this war only grew greater as a result of their expenditure. The history of our detrimental effects has only just started. And we’d like to be able to swear, like Leon Bloy, that:
“From now on there will be no more oaths mumbled on street corners by shivering, starving people as you pass by. There will be no more demands or bitter recriminations. All that is over. We are going totally silent… You can keep your money, bread, wine, trees, and flowers. You can keep all the joys of life and your inalterable serenity of conscience. We won’t demand anything anymore; we don’t want any of the things we’ve desired and demanded in vain for so many centuries anymore. Our complete desperation will from now on carry out, against ourselves, the definitive ban you’ve placed on our enjoyment of them.
But be warned! We are keeping up the fire, and we beg you not to be too surprised at the coming fricassee. Your palaces and hotels will burn quite nicely, when one day we decide to set them ablaze, because we’ve listened very attentively to the lessons your chemistry professors give, and we’ve invented a few little contraptions of our own that will amaze you.” (The Hopeless One)