Revolution and Destruction: The Fascist Obstacle

From lundimatin #407, December 11, 2023 …

This text was written by the philosopher Jean Vioulac for a gathering organised by Lundimatin at the Consulate, in Paris, on December 2, 2023. The theme revived the most haunting dichotomy of our contemporary entrance into the fascist winter: “Fascism or Revolution” . The demand for thought posed by the situation presupposes an intervention with concepts. The Revolution is not only an ecopolitical emergency, it is a necessity immanent in the very logic of the reality principle. And this is how “to fuck everything becomes vital”.*

The field of politics is where the principle of reality must impose itself and all political thought therefore requires realism. But the political field is just as much that of ideology, which covers reality with its simulacra. The situation today reaches unprecedented levels in the contemporary media apparatus, where the production of simulacra has become industrialised, and where ideological conflicts are rendered hysterical by the immediacy of exchanges.

To try to get around this problem, it is possible to take as a starting point the observation of a man who represents what is the most institutional and the most official, the least extremist and the least marginal, and who is also one of the best informed on global issues, namely the Secretary General of the United Nations. António Guterres declared last February: “We need a revolution to stop the destruction.”

It is therefore official: the emergency is that of revolution. The question of revolution is not a residue of the ideological debates of the 19th and 20th centuries, it is not a marginal hypothesis, it imposes itself at the global level.

It imposes itself on the grounds of a perfectly identified problem, that of destruction. If the Secretary General of the United Nations can speak of destruction, it is because there is an organisation which, here too, attempts to circumvent ideology by providing a realistic inventory of the situation, through a synthesis of scientific work: the IPCC. All the data provided by contemporary sciences highlights a process of destruction of life, the last example of which took place 65 million years ago. The human species has no shelter against this. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction affirmed in a report published in April 2022 that “humanity has entered a spiral of self-destruction”.

The principal manifestation of the ongoing destruction (not the only one) is global warming. This is linked to the mass combustion of hydrocarbons, therefore to a mode of production which requires this type and quantity of energy. Ice cores in Antarctica also make it possible to date the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the end of the 18th century, that is to say, from the time when industrialisation began. The origin of the process of destruction is the industrial revolution.

The question of revolution therefore also arises at this level: humanity has experienced now for two centuries its greatest revolution since the Neolithic revolution which inaugurated history some 10,000 years ago. The revolution is not an ideal or a utopia; it is the fundamental movement of our time. For two centuries, private life and society, art and religion, technology and science, everything has been revolutionised.

One must then try to think the industrial revolution. The task seems insurmountable, because we are confronted with the unprecedented: the event is titanic and it dominates us. It is only possible for us to think about it by climbing on the shoulders of the giants who rose to the occasion, those who knew how to carry out the philosophical revolution necessary to think through this historic revolution. The philosopher of the industrial revolution is Karl Marx.

Marx demonstrated that the industrial revolution is nothing other than the capitalist revolution: the industrial revolution is the moment when the technical infrastructure and social relations necessary for the capitalist mode of production are put in place.

Capitalism is a revolution as an inversion, which manifests itself in the inversion of the relationship between means and ends: money was a means of exchange, it becomes the end of production. The sole purpose of any activity is to make money. But in reality, money is not only at the end of the process, it is also at its beginning: there is first a quantity of money, what is called “capital” in the current sense of the term, then its investment, and the goal is to increase the initial quantity. The characteristic process of capitalism is that of the self-increase of the quantity of money. This is also how historians and economists define the industrial revolution: by the “take-off” of a system whose growth is now self-sustaining. In public policies, the only obsession is that of growth. But before celebrating growth rates, it is good to ask the question: the growth of what?

The whole question of capitalism rests on that of money, of currency. Money first appears as a means of exchange for very different products. Exchange is a process in which the particular and concrete qualities of products are placed in parenthesis to reduce them to a universal and abstract quantity, in relation to which they all become commensurable. This universal and abstract quantity is their value. Value is thus an essence in the philosophical, Platonic sense of the term. Value is to real riches what beauty is to beautiful things in Plato’s dialogues: an abstraction, a pure form, an idea. Value is the essence of wealth, the concept of wealth, it is wealth reduced to its universal and abstract essence.

But unlike the essences that Socrates and Plato spoke of, the essence of wealth becomes one thing: money. Money, currency, is the embodiment of value. Making money is actually producing value. Capitalism must therefore redefine itself on these bases: it is the continuous self-increase of the quantity of value. This is the central and fundamental achievement of all of Marx’s thought: Capital is “the self-valorisation of value”.

Value is an abstraction, a universal and abstract entity, ideal and formal, totally immaterial, which is made evident in the dematerialisation of money. Money materialises value in a small piece of metal, which makes it a contradictory thing, since abstract universality exists as concrete particularity. Today, value has conquered the mode of being that corresponds to its concept, by identifying money with computer writing games, with series of numbers stored on computers, with digital flows.

Capitalism is revolution as an inversion. This inversion is that of the particular-concrete and the universal-abstract. With capitalism, it is no longer religion, art or philosophy that aims for the Universal, it is the economy, and this with the aim of to actually producing it. Production sets itself the goal of abstract universality, it sets itself an absolute, unlimited goal: this explains why its needs in energy and raw materials are themselves absolute, unlimited.

The development of capitalist production is thus a process of universalisation and abstraction, for which every particular and concrete thing is only a means. Thus the industry produces particular goods en masse, but these goods must expire as quickly as possible to impose a new production and a new purchase: this is planned obsolescence. There is thus a tendency for the decline in use value. All merchandise is destined to become waste: production does not end in consumption but in pollution.

Growth is therefore never anything other than that of a numerical quantity, of an abstraction, of a speculative bubble. All resources are consumed only to produce this abstraction, and all consumption is destruction. The United Nations states that humanity has entered upon a “spiral of self-destruction”. This spiral is the logic of capitalism: it defines the very essence of Capital.

The revolution necessary to stop the destruction is the overthrow of capitalism, that is, the inversion of this inverted system.

The task itself is colossal, since we are faced with a planetary machinery of disproportionate power, interconnected and automated, which no one controls. This is why only philosophical thought is able to conceive it, since it is difficult to admit the reality of abstraction, the power of the Universal, the domination of processes without a subject. The spontaneous tendency is to attribute the misdeeds to this or that group of individuals whose actions are more visible. Hence the flourishing of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, but also of the crude and summary thesis according to which the capitalists are responsible and guilty.

However, capitalists are only products of capitalism. They occupy a function made necessary by its functioning. Marx repeats on every page that they are the “functionaries” of Capital, the “cogs” of the system; he spells out that the capitalists are “slaves” of Capital. We must insist on this, since believing that the elimination of capitalists is enough to resolve the problem can only lead to further destruction: which Bolshevism has amply demonstrated.

Capital is the logic, or the software, of a planetary system which has disproportionate power: no one can pretend to storm it from the outside, to take it in hand. To think revolution is to look for a structural contradiction that would condemn it to self-destruct and it is to follow the fault line of this systemic failure. This is what Marx is all about. Social inequalities are not the problem, exploitation is not the problem: otherwise there would be nothing new, the levels of inequality and exploitation are no worse today than they were under the Roman Empire. The antagonism between capitalists and workers is not the problem: it is the solution. Both capitalists and workers are functionaries of Capital, slaves of Capital, but at opposite poles: some are enslaved and content, others enslaved and discontent. The discontented are therefore likely to revolt. The difference between bourgeois and proletarians is not that of masters and slaves, but that of collaborators and resistance fighters. Marx thus sees in capitalism a social logic of proletarianisation which produces an increasingly large class of opponents to capitalism, and this is where the hope for an overthrow of the system lies.

Marx’s analysis focuses on mid-19th century Europe. We are in the 21st century. The growing bipolarisation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has not taken place. On the contrary, societies have been characterized by the exponential growth of the middle class, with the advent of consumer society.

The project of consumer society was developed in the United States in the 1920s to ward off the threat of Bolshevism. It was a question of eradicating the threat of subversion by transforming the proletarian into a consumer, which has the double advantage of providing outlets for production and of making the proletarian a supporter of capitalism. The realisation of this project immediately resorted to a mass propaganda device, that of advertising, which imposed consumerist ideology. The social effect of the domination of Capital was not the growth of the proletariat but the advent of consumerism.

No one has described the advent of consumerism with more force than Pasolini in his texts from the 1970s, the Scritti corsari, where he analyses the cultural revolution, a real one, which was taking place before his eyes in Italy. He sees that the influence of the media apparatus on society is much greater than that of the State under Mussolini, and that consumerist ideology transforms Italians from the inside, in all dimensions of their existence. He even speaks of “anthropological mutation”. Pasolini then defines capitalism as totalitarianism and consumerism as a kind of fascism.**

Fascism is characterised by the fusion of men and women into an undifferentiated mass, their reduction to their instincts and their drives, to then mobilise and use this power. The militarist fascisms of the 1920s and 1930s defined the mass on national, ethnic or racial bases, fanaticised it through the cult of the leader, and mobilised its power in a military framework. But there is also a consumerist fascism which consists of merging men into a mass of consumers, of reducing them to their purchasing impulses and their lust, of fanaticising them through the fetishism of brands, or of sports teams, then to mobilise this mass through advertising propaganda to stem overproduction. Consumerism is the army of consumer foot soldiers.

To speak of fascism today is therefore first of all to note that fascism dominates, in the form of bovine or porcine fascism (“living and thinking like pigs”, said Gilles Châtelet). It is a fascism of herds of consumers, spectators, cybernauts and tourists; it is a certainly peaceful fascism, but it eliminates the revolutionary resource that was for Marx the growth of the proletariat: the consumeriat is characterised by voluntary servitude and voluntary alienation, and by the passivity of the spectator connected 24 hours a day to the cybernetic device.

The question would then be to identify revolutionary processes within these massified societies. But, among those who oppose the domination of capitalism, the dominant movements on a global scale today themselves take fascistic forms, characterised by the desire to re-found people on national or ethnic bases, in the fantasy of a return to the modern nation-state, or even of re-founding them on religious bases, in the fantasy of a return to medieval political theology. Fascism is thus the main obstacle to the revolution that our time calls for.

Fascism is not a simple dated historical phenomenon. It is linked to the industrial revolution, defined by the total mobilisation of men, women, and peoples, in the service of the production system and their massification, which reduces them to the rank of resource in the same way as any cattle herd. Nazism brought to completion this biologisation of peoples, made up of organic masses whose power it was a question of unleashing. However the generalisation of what Foucault called “bio-power” shows that this gregarisation of peoples is a fundamental movement.

The capitalist revolution is an inversion. Humanity is no longer “master and possessor of nature”, it is only raw material for an apparatus which naturalises it and finally reduces it to the rank of natural resource among others. The concept of the Anthropocene, which has become established over the past twenty years, is the recognition of this new status: the Anthropocene designates the era in which humanity itself became a geological force. The revolution is urgent, but it in no way relates to what was called or claimed to be such in past centuries, because it no longer relates to, or in any case not only to, a politics. It is no longer a matter of assuming, on the scale of historical time, the responsibility for the collective life of a people, but, on the scale of geological time, assuming the future of the earth system, and thus to be “charged with humanity, even animals” (Rimbaud).

No one today can pretend to know exactly how such a revolution can come about. There is nevertheless one certainty: it is urgent.

Jean Vioulac – December 2023

* Oh Lala, PNL

** See, in Autonomies: With and beyond anti-fascism (1) and Anti-fascism in spain (2): Reading events with Pasolini

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