Who are “we”, who rebel?

What follows is a translation of an essay on subjectivity and rebellion in the context of capitalism by Martín Colonel, inspired by the work of León Rozitchner and published on the site Lobo Suelto, preceded by a brief introduction.

What can be done such that what each one of us assimilates of this cultural reality speaks to us, forms us, prepares us as men incompatible with this very reality, a reality that nevertheless constitutes us? The problem is formidable: how can we produce the opposite of what capitalism, with all its man-producing system, produces? In other words: how to go up against the current of dissolution, this degradation of the human that seems to be inscribed in the need for its development? How can we introduce ourselves into that brief margin that, between systole and diastole, opens up in each man so that the revolution is felt as his own need?[1]

There is no “Left” without a “revolutionary” subject, argued the argentine León Rozitchner in the 1960s, against orthodox Marxism.[2] Today, we may add – not thereby refuting -, there can be no “revolution” with a presumed “revolutionary subject”. Between these moments of critical reflection, an arc travels between the idea of revolution as the creation of a new constituent authority to that of “revolution” as “destituent” power, to a “power” which contests the very idea of “revolution” as a sovereign act and of the “subject” as a sovereign agent.[3]

What defines a revolutionary becoming is the destitution of the ego together with the reality of the enemy. The auto-destitution of the militant consists at once in consenting to the deposition of one’s own social identity, in deactivating the apparatus of ideology, while also grasping the power of that mask, of the particular mode of existence of militancy, which implies a form of life that emerges by exposing the singular relationship to one’s own side [parte: ‘part, share, side, way, direction, somewhere, party] and to the world, one based on fidelity to a truth, the truth of an encounter that each of us undergoes in his own life, not with individuals, or with an idea, but with a force [la verità di un incontro che ciascuno fa nella propria vita non con degli individui, né con un’idea, ma con una forza]. For revolutionaries, a real encounter is one that not only allows a political friendship to exist through this force, but which offers everyone the possibility of coming into contact with his own self, and from there, to make a decision about his life, together with others. Taking over the language of the first Christian communities, we could say that whoever accomplishes such an encounter receives grace, or power. The power of being nothing—that is, everything. Nothing and everything is the truth of that mask.[4]

Borges once asked what God moves the God who moves the chess player to move the chess piece. What if the answer, our answer, were none?

Whatever the outcome of the street confrontations, insurrection has always-already torn holes in the tight fabric of beliefs that enable government to be exercised. This is why those in a hurry to bury the insurrection don’t waste their time trying to mend the broken foundation in crumbs of an already invalidated legitimacy. […] To make the destitution irreversible, therefore, we must begin by abandoning our own legitimacy. We have to give up the idea that one makes the revolution in the name of something, that there’s a fundamentally just and innocent entity which the revolutionary forces would have the task of representing. One doesn’t bring the power back down to earth in order to raise oneself above the heavens.[5]

The Stolen Subject

Martín Coronel, Lobo Suelto, 01/10/2021

Edgar Allan Poe developed the following idea in the story “The Purloined Letter”[6]: a presence does not become a figure without a subject who intentionally cuts it out. The idea of the story is charming in its simplicity. A minister at the court of a French king steals a letter that compromises royal power. The court knows that the minister has the letter. The result is a tactical tie, an unstable balance: the king cannot act against his minister since he has the compromising letter; the minister cannot make use of the document since it is his safe conduct and, once used, his power vanishes. The story begins with a conversation between the narrator, Auguste Dupin, and the police commissioner in charge of the investigation. The commissioner, helpless, attends to the advice of the infallible amateur investigator Dupin. The commissioner then comments on the scientific methods, the most advanced of the time, that were used in vain in the search for the real document. He concludes: the letter is not in the minister’s house, and asks: where else can I look for it? Dupin offers his opinion: look again in the same place. Logically, the commissioner is puzzled. But even worse is when Dupin easily finds the letter just by looking about the minister’s apartment, within easy reach, in a card holder located in the fireplace.

Dupin urges us to search “with different eyes.” Is this possible? The task demands it, but it is very difficult. The commissioner arrives at the scene with the weight of experience and tries to apply the method learned in the police academy and in past cases. But it is useless. Reality is stubborn and it insists on escaping from the usual methods. There is a split between perception and given reality. The commissioner questions reality and is frustrated; Dupin questions how we look, see, and wins.

1. The what of the matter

In La izquierda sin sujeto, León Rozitchner invites us to take up a similar questioning. He tells us something like this: you have to question everything from the foundations. The subject also. The individual who makes the revolution must be questioned in the depths and intimacy of their being, since they are constituted so as to reproduce capitalist society. It seems a simple and commonplace reasoning, but it is not. Rozitchner proposes that we engage with ourselves, in those places where we have deposited the deepest certainty of who we are and where we intend to go.

It is known: the human is a “force of production.” Now, how far are we going to attribute to it that value? Only superficially, at the level of something useful for the production of goods? Or, also, are we going to consider it as the author of its own existence, in the full sense of the term? Because, what are the material conditions of existence? Do they only have to do with the concept of the “capitalist mode of production”, or do they also include the set of vital relationships of which subjects are a part and which mark subjectivities? Are affective relationships not part of the material conditions of existence? If we hide affectivity from the latter, we obviously believe in the bourgeois split subject. And we no longer understand anything because we do not understand ourselves. It is a catchphrase on the left that “without revolutionary theory there is no revolution”, but do we understand how far this statement goes?

2. The enemy camp

Bourgeois thought has two fundamental sources: humanistic and mathematical thought. In the field of humanism, however, it has been resolved, the fundamental concern was man understood as the centre of relations with society, nature and God. We no longer started from divine certainty as the foundation of being and, therefore, of thinking-acting. We were thrown into the world and only madness could prevent salvation. Perhaps that is what Erasmus warns us about, the tension between madness and good sense, between a force that unleashes desire and another that opens onto terror, another that moves towards adaptation to a nascent society that abandoned one God to assume another: Capital. Erasmus of course is ironic in his “defence” of Folly, but evidently that tension is seen, that human ambivalence is gradually transformed into theoretical dualism.

The other current, mathematical, must be consistent with itself. This current is a map: you must know where you are going and by which way. You have to find a Principle of Sufficient Reason. It is necessary to weigh, to compare. To reason mathematically: to separate the object from the subject, to separate the object into minimal parts and once each part is “understood”, to put them back together again like a puzzle. Man thus becomes a victim of manipulation and administration. It is necessary to make balances, to add and subtract. However, when unleashed, man is not controllable. He must therefore transform himself into a monad, he must be a particular element in the world of particles. From the wild banquet of Petronius[7] to the frugal feeding of Juan Vives[8], what mediates is the administration of resources. He must be capable of taking on and removing, in short, to be administered according to needs. Is not the 17th century the century of rationalism? A century that gave birth to Spinoza’s monistic rationalism. But wasn’t a crazed Spinoza kicked out of his community?

In order not to flourish, the individual needed to be separated from his enjoyment and pain, from his human being. He became a machine, he became a means of production in the most instrumental way, moving between the abstract individual to the socially abstract. In their very beginnings, political theorists understood the need for adaptation to a higher order. Thomas Hobbes had already warned us that the Covenant of Subjection was eternal. The Mephistopheles called the State demanded from the Faust called the People the delegation of all his rights. Later, these ideas would be modulated so as not to fall into excess. Then, the Covenant of Subjection will not be eternal to the extent that it is a revocable contract, although those who dominate will not eagerly agree to cancel it at any time. The State will be civilised where the magistrate does not interfere “in his own interest”, as John Locke says, although the ruling class does not seem to agree with this dogma either, as throughout these years, the Common Lands were encroached upon through Acts of Enclosure or enclosure laws. An abstract society corresponds to the abstract individual. The symbolic separates itself from being.

Little by little, our capacity to act is justifiably delegated to an earthly God who is above society: the State, which protects it, cares for it, punishes it. And, above all, the State elevates society to paradise, or condemns it to hell. Later, this concept will be elevated to dogma: representation. Abstract representatives of abstract individuals: citizens.

They taught us with the Bible and the sword or, in a more modern manner, with school and jail; they taught us by torturing our flesh and forming our perception so as to assume an other’s judgement, believing it to be ours. They taught us to identify with what we are not. We ourselves were not our body and its relationship with the environment, but our reflection in the mirror. They took us out of ourselves to put us in another place: we were re-presented.

3. State and citizens.

Real problems, embodied, became mathematical problems: what does it mean that in 2021, in Argentina, the officially recognized percentage of poverty is 40.6%? It is a mathematical problem. To raise or lower a percentage. Is that really our problem? The problem is not a numerical (or monetary) circumstance, more specifically, it is not a circumstance. Poverty is a form of degradation that is embodied in real individuals who suffer deprivation that is not circumstantial. Poverty is a way someone lives, and dies. As we read this there are individuals in our community who embody poverty and suffer from it. As we read this there are individuals who are dying for absolutely avoidable issues. The problem is not mathematical, it is vital. It is not a matter of arguing, of waiting and of suffering, but of acting here and now.

The stolen subject. What Rozitchner asks of us is that we identify the enemy, and that we first find that enemy part that they introduced into us, that part that we most consider ours when it should be the most alien. But it is not easy because as Poe says, you have to see our reality from another place, with different eyes. But we only have these eyes. We must therefore make other eyes, quasi real, to bring them up from what is most intimate and primordial in our imaginary. This is an individual and social struggle since our body is the motor of social action at the same time that it supports the conflicts of our time. It is the fold between what is exercised and what has been suffered, a present burdened with the past and an anticipation of the future. For this reason, it is a subject of transformation.

The tale of torture and disappearances that the Latin American dictatorships established in our region is not only horrifying. It also says in addition a great deal about whom we are. Is it necessary to apply terror on bodies? Why? Is the body the axis of change, transformation? The “identity theft” of children is however part of social “identity theft”. “Stealing identity” is not a metaphor.

What part of our subjectivity has been stolen from us? That is for personal and community work to address. How do we recover that faculty of being a “productive force” in a totalising sense, that is, not in its commodity dimension, as a social reproducer, but in the human dimension of a builder of one’s own life?

4. From one side to the other

And in our camp, it is evident that we cannot succeed to articulate a body and that this does not allow us to be a force. Comings and goings, blows and counterblows. Are we assuming what we are or are we continuing to externalise the image that we assume of ourselves? We must be clear about one thing: to delegate is to tear off a part of ourselves and to give it. So we must therefore know what we are able to give up and what not. Our place is our body and our community. To unite, to come together and to dialogue. To understand ourselves as a concrete collective, as an individual and community body that, understanding its real situation, its real being, advances along the divide that marks social relations. And from there, to build other relations. The curious thing is that the left continues to promote a “representative” (substitute for real bodies in their concrete situation) and “administrative” thinking (politics as a matter of putting in and taking out resources).

It seems that nothing real is being played out. The phrase “the proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains” is fine if we understand it metaphorically. But do we really think that the proletariat, or better yet to get closer to the thing, “the proletariat”, has nothing to lose? And this, let us understand matters, because “the proletariat” is made up of proletarians, of individuals who live and do things and have relationships. Do we really think that an individual has nothing to lose when he engages in revolutionary action? If we think so, we continue to believe in the citizen, in that monad that is a grain of sand on the beach; a grain that the wind can move from here to there, even remove from the beach, without modifying the concept of the beach. To construct another project, we must reintegrate ourselves into who we are. Therefore, it is desire, a carnal and joyful democracy, that must be promoted, without which we must accept prolonging terror and torture.

Because the subject is at the same time what supports social transformation and the author of vital transformation. The project of recovering the subject implies a whole conceptualisation of the present and of what is to come. For if we modify social relations and, instead of delegating ourselves to this, we delegate to that other endeavour, then we would continue to imagine ourselves in a language that is not our own. Then we would doom ourselves to failure.

That is why we must see each other again, to push what we are ourselves, not what they did with us; to promote that project that we want to be as humans.

“But what God behind God plots the advent”?[9]

[1] León Rozitchner,“La izquierda sin sujeto”, p. 154, in Pensamiento Crítico, Havana, January 1968, number 12, pp. 151-184.(filosofia.org) For those unfamiliar with the work of Rozitchner, brief intellectual biographies can be found in English and Spanish. Lobo Suelto recorded a beautiful series of video interviews with Rozitchner, which are available at the collective’s youtube channel. Numerous essays by Rozitchner, and essays about his work, along with interviews can also be found at Lobo Suelto.

[2] León Rozitchner,“La izquierda sin sujeto”.

[3] Giorgio Agamben, “For a theory of destituent power” (Autonomies). Giorgio Agamben, L’Usage des corps: Homo Sacer, IV,2, Éditions de Seuil, Paris, 2015. See also the essay by Michel Garau, “Without Why: The Existential A Priori of Destituent Action”, recently translated and published by the ill will collective.

[4] Marcello Tarì, There Is No Unhappy Love: The Communism of Destitution, Common Notions, 2021, pp. 6-7. See also an interview with Marcello Tarì for e-flux journal on the occasion of the publication of the English language translation of this work.

[5] The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends, Semiotext(e), 2014, pp. 76-77.

[6] Edgar Allan Poe, The Purloined Letter. (PoeStories.com)

[7] The Satyricon.

[8] Treatise on Education.

[9] Jorge Luis Borges, “The Game of Chess”.



Seated in their serious corners, the players
Align the slow pieces. The board
Holds them until dawn in its severe
Enclosure, two colours hating each other.

The game magically enforces discipline
Upon its forms: Homeric castle, light-
Footed knight, warring queen, the king
In the rear, his bishop at a slant, pawns advancing.

When the players have gone away,
When time at last consumes them,
The ritual is certainly not over.

It was the Orient that sparked this war
And now the whole earth is its theatre.
As with that other game, this one is forever.


Frail king, slippery bishop, bloody-minded
Queen, single-minded rook, smooth-tongued
Pawn, both the black and the white, seek the path
That finds the other out, armed to the teeth.

What they do not know is that the pointing
Hand of the player is governor of destiny.
Nor do they know what adamantine ways
Bind their will and shape their journey.

The player, however, is also a prisoner
(The saying of Omar’s) of yet another
Checkerboard of nights and days.

God moves the player as he the pieces
But what god behind God plots the advent
Of dust and time and dreams and agonies?

(trans. by Kurt Heinzelman)

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