Amador Fernández-Savater: “The weak are wrong if they use the force and methods of the strong”

Amador Fernández-Savater has written the book La fuerza de los débiles with the desire to understand what happened to 15M and after 15M and to thereby analyze the current world, to continue looking for ways to understand politics. For this, he has made use of the Prussian military man and philosopher Carl von Clausewitz to think about war, strategy, force.

“I was intrigued to know how people who had nothing were able to challenge Napoleon in Spain, for example. Where do those without weapons, technology, power, money, armies draw their strength?”, he explains. That is what his new book is about: how sometimes, throughout history, the weak are capable of transforming the state of things.

Fernández-Savater talks about his new work with in a square in central Madrid, in a spontaneous conversation, with what he would call “thinking on the move.”

The war of the strong, the guerrilla of the weak

-How does Clausewitz think about war and, specifically, the strength of the weak?

It is long, but Clausewitz distinguishes between the war of the strong (“offensive”) and the war of the weak (“defensive,” the guerrilla). The strong rely, in a word, on the technical capacity to produce terror. And the weak, those who don’t have weapons or technologies, those who perhaps don’t want the world that comes with them either? The strength of the weak depends on popular and collective activation and on taking advantage of the potential of the territory and time.

The advantage in strength of those who have nothing is that they themselves fight for themselves. It is something that is already present in the chronicles of Herodotus about the war between the Greeks and the Persians. He asks how the Greeks, who were so few, defeat such gigantic armies, and he answers: they fight for their own, for their city. The Persians are fighting away from home, under the whip or for pay; the Greeks themselves fight for themselves, for what is theirs; there is an additional strength here.

-Throughout the pages of La fuerza de los débiles, you mention other ingredients of this strength of the vulnerable, such as bonds.

Yes. It is the strength of solidarity: there is no maquis without a home to welcome it. The people below are capable of giving themselves information, shelter, care, help. That force is capable of countering cannons. Sensitivity is political, feeling others: that you care about the other because there is something in common between the other and you.

The strength of the strong makes us objects and isolated, that of the weak is to become interconnected subjects.

-You also mention autonomy over time and space.

Yes, those who have nothing can put time on their side, always resisting the temptation offered by the strong, which is to “come and face me in a battle in which all or nothing is at stake.” Let us think of the Zapatistas, who have been around for thirty years.

The same goes for space. The weak are strong if they fight from their territory, in their life territories, those that they inhabit. Clausewitz speaks of the physical territory: the valleys, the mountains, the deserts, the lakes. The weak are friends of the territories and these last help them. Social movements have their mountains and valleys: squares, neighbourhoods, health centres, schools, neighbourhood solidarity, etc. They are territories of life, the strength of the weak rests on their roots in territories of life.

-You say in your book that the West has made dominance and control a way of thinking.

The “offensive war” is not only a military paradigm, but also a political, social, economic, cultural, and existential one. It is the idea of ??conquest, which involves dominating the other, the surrender of their body and their will to take over their territory, their wealth. And this happens through the exercise of force over the world, through weapons, fear. The (dominating) subject separates itself from an object to dominate it through brute force.

The weak have strength if they think otherwise. Instead of distancing itself from the world to dominate it, it works to make it its friend: to be a friend of the population, of time, of space, of life forms. Not to dominate people, but to be the people. Not to dominate the terrain, but to be the terrain. Not to dominate time, but to be that time. The more links there are – with bodies, territories, matter -, the more strength there is. It is another experience of life and the world.

-You mention Hegel’s idea of ??war: “Whoever translates the other wins.” What is this idea of translation?

There are two forces, that of the strong and that of the weak. The weak are wrong if they use the strength of the strong, if they use, for example, terror against terror and enter upon a mirror image of war and choosing whatever or whoever they want to fight.

Hegel adds something to Clausewitz: war is not only a test of strength, he says, but also of translation. War is not just a clash of forces, but a semiotic war to assimilate the other. That means translating: entering into the other, listening carefully to it in order to be able to absorb it and erase it. Winning is convincing the other, so that the other ends up thinking like you.

15M and Podemos

-You use all of this specifically to understand the political sequence 15M-Podemos.

I ask myself where the “effectiveness” of 15M resided. A movement without money, without any doctrine, without institutions behind it, without anything that we think of as power, how was it able to contest the very definition of democracy in this country? How could it pierce the, until then, omnipotent consensual culture of the Transition?

I find an answer in the features mentioned so far: the activation of bodies, extended solidarity, times and spaces proper to them. The squares were a very powerful place because they admitted all people, all knowledge, all abilities. Everyone could find a way to get involved. No contribution was discarded, everything added.

-You indicate that all of this changes when the new politics enters the game.

Yes. It’s not about blaming anyone. That is not what I am interested in thinking about, in the book. I am interested in thinking about what we mean by efficacy, if there is only one or several kinds. The idea of ??the new politics, of Podemos, for example, is to translate the energy of 15M to the institutional level and what I try to explain in the book is how this translation is erasing those ingredients of the strength of the weak by translating them into a more conventional code.

-For instance?

In institutional politics there is the idea that those who know, rule, that the participation of the people is not effective, but disorderly and tumultuous. The ties no longer move through the people, between each person, but through the people to the leader, like the axles of a wheel. One begins to play exclusively in the time of power – marked by elections – and in its spaces – media or institutional -, losing contact with the territories of life. The electoral machine does not add things together, but rather discards: people are limited to expressing their opinions in networks. Well, control is the dominant idea of ??efficacy.

-You indicate that 15M is translated into the code of conventional politics.

Yes. 15M was a sort of UFO, nobody understood it; it created another language that was somehow opaque to power. This messes up the game. This is one of its strengths: to be untranslatable. It seems to me that this is lost later on, when the idea arises that to be effective you have to be one more side in the game, to enter the game, to think about the game. We are translated into the game.

Automatic speech and the speech of affects

-You speak of representation, delegation and the media. There are those who read what Podemos achieved because it was on TV.

When people say that someone speaks very well, referring to this or that politician, I always ask myself, “but what is speaking well?” Is it to speak without doubts, without stammering, without making mistakes? For me that is official language, to speak automatically, the speech of the strong. When you make the effort to speak and think in your own words, without betraying the speech learned at home, letting yourself be affected by the situation and by others, there may be flaws in the speech. But for me these are signs of credibility.

– What is it to speak automatically?

TV is not designed to leave room for doubt, there are no moments of silence; being wrong is a weakness, and it is assumed that you should never show weakness. It is for the strong, vulnerability is punished. So when I hear someone say “that this one speaks very well”, I don’t know what they mean, because speaking well is like a robotic, artificial speech. It is the paradigm of control: “I have everything under control and I leave you without an answer.”

-Is it possible that there is truth in television formats?

It has been a long time since I have heard a voice on TV that speaks to me with truth. The force of the new politics’ word at first was that it was permeated with what was going on in the streets and squares. A word has force when it is impregnated with what happens to people. The leader is more effective when s/he is able to listen, to collect, to synthesise. When s/he believes that it is her/his genius, s/he loses his strength, s/he is only a channel.

15M had no unified speech, but thousands of voices. And its communicative efficacy was extremely high. It is the strength of speaking from heart to heart and from wound to wound, like the speech of the Zapatistas, of Pilar Manjón in her day, or of feminisms.

-There is a phrase in the book in which you say: “People tend to believe that the outcome of the cultural battle does not depend on the truth of the stories but on their communicative effectiveness.”

Today communication is the dominant language. It is the language of seduction: you have to seduce the other with allusions, with figures, with signifiers. The other is an object. I don’t think that anything happens here, that in politics everything happens if there is a body that takes risks. How does 2011 start? With a man burning himself in Tunisia, with an activist crying in all sincerity before the cameras in Egypt, with forty people camping in Sol, with bodies that take risks, with something in the body that is activated. It is necessary for the body to speak, for the word to be an extension of the body, not a calculation taken from a book.

-We are basically talking about an idea of ??change. 15M wanted to improve things, to effect a change. In institutional politics, the concept of change is also mentioned often. You have your own idea of ??change.

If there is no subjective change there is no objective change. That is my balance of the experiences of the twentieth century. The formula of state-centred, vertical and bureaucratic communism attempted very strong changes in both political and economic power, but the society did not differ so much from the western one. Why? Because it did not change people’s everyday lives any substantial way. It did not change the relationship with work, with knowledge, with those in charge, with politics, with machines, with the body itself. It is the dimension of subjective transformation that also drives an objective transformation, a transformation of desire.

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