Divine Violence and Liberated Territories

ST: But when Negri and Hardt use the term “deterritorialization,” don’t they mean something very specific, namely that the difference between productive and unproductive labor has become increasingly unclear, and therefore that the site of exploitation is no longer localized, but disseminated across the social surface—the entire space of society is politicized, and no longer simply the factory?

Let’s start with Negri and Hardt. Somewhere in the middle of [amazon asin=0141014873&text=Multitude], there is an intermezzo on Bakhtin and carnival. I violently disagree with this carnivalesque vision of liberation. Carnival is a very ambiguous term, more often than not used by reactionaries. My God, if you need a carnival, today’s capitalism is a carnival. A KKK lynching is a carnival. A cultural critic, a friend of mine, Boris Groys, told me that he did some research on Bakhtin and that it became clear that when Bakhtin was producing his theory of carnival in the 1930s, it was the Stalinist purges that were his model: today you are on the Central Committee, tomorrow . . . With the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, the opposition between rigid State control and carnivalesque liberation is no longer functional. Here I agree with what Badiou said in the recent interview with you published in Il Manifesto: “those who have nothing have only their discipline.” This is why I like to mockingly designate myself “Left-fascist” or whatever! Today, the language of transgression is the ruling ideology. We have to reappropriate the language of discipline, of mass discipline, even the “spirit of sacrifice,” and so on. We have to do away with the liberal fear of “discipline,” which they characterize—without knowing what they’re talking about—as “proto-fascist.” But back to Negri. You know, the Left produces a new model every ten years or so. Why was Ernesto Laclau’s [amazon asin=1781681546&text=Hegemony and Socialist Strategy] so popular twenty years ago? It suited a moment when the priority of class struggle gave way to the linking of particular struggles (feminist, etc.) in a chain of struggles. Now, Laclau is trying to dust off the theory to fit the new Latin American populism of Chavez, Morales and so on. Negri, I’m afraid, did capture a certain moment, that of Porto Alegre and the antiglobalization movement—that was, de facto, his “base.” But what is problematic for me is his theory that if today the very object of production is the production of social relations themselves, then the way is open to what he calls “absolute democracy.” I totally reject this logic. It is pure, ideological dreaming. In the final twenty pages of [amazon asin=0141014873&text=Multitude], the position is more or less theological—the tropes of “ligne de fuite” and resistance and so on are all founded on the fantasy of a “collapse” of Empire. In a way, it is the “optimistic” mirror image of the model you find in someone like Agamben, who presents not so much a pessimism but a “negative” teleology, in which the entire Western tradition is approaching its own disastrous end, the only solution to which is to await some “divine violence.” But what is Benjamin talking about? Revolution—that is, a moment when you take the “sovereign” (this is Benjamin’s word) responsibility for killing someone. What does violence mean for Agamben? He responds with “playing with the law” and so on. Forgive me for being a vulgar empiricist, but I don’t know what that means in the concrete sense.

ST: You mentioned “liberated territories”—isn’t the first example that comes to mind the southern zone of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut? Isn’t it possible to conceive of a phenomenon like Hezbollah not simply as a theologico-political form of communitarian organization but as a phenomenon of resistance irreducible to its theological support? Isn’t this the theoretical task for us, rather than characterizing this phenomenon, as is common on both the Left and the Right, as simply “obscurantist”?

This is really a matter of concrete judgment. I’ll ask you, quite naively: where do you see this dimension? I would like to be convinced. It’s quite fashionable to speak of self-organization, to say of Hamas or Hezbollah that “it’s not only rockets, there’s the social services, etc.” But, look, every fascist regime does such things. It’s not enough. I think the Iranian revolution, for example, was a true event. There it’s clear. Of course, what you see today in Iran is a conservative populist regime buying off the poor with oil money. I have nothing against Islam as such, and in the Iranian revolution it is quite clear that it played a crucial role, but it was an Islam effectively linked to a Leftist position of social upheaval. It’s quite clear that, in the history of this revolution, it took around two years for the conservatives to take control. Again, I don’t have a problem with Islam as such. I think it is potentially a great emancipatory religion. It originally defined itself as a non-patriarchal religion, for example. I have written on this. Badiou spoke in the recent interview in Il Manifesto of a new form of organization outside the logic of the State and the Party—but what if you see this as a negative phenomenon, as a radical closure of social space? What kind of social space is being proposed? It’s important not to drift too far away from Marx here and his definition of the proletariat as a “substanceless subjectivity.” This is essential. So if this form of organization belongs neither to the State or the Party, isn’t this because it represents a totalization of social space, something pre-modern . . .

ST: . . .an anti-modern reaction to the State?

Yes, yes. I don’t care about the social services and so on. The question is: when it is a question of workers, of women, and so on, where do you see any promise of emancipation? It’s not a rhetorical question. I want to see it, and I don’t. The big question for me—and here I am an unashamed Eurocentrist—is the political solution in Palestine, namely the necessity of a single, secular state. Is the goal of Hezbollah or Hamas a single, secular state, or not? I totally support the Palestinian cause, and even Palestinian “terror,” provided it is publicly oriented toward a single, secular state. The option proposed by Hamas and Hezbollah is not a single secular state, but the destruction of Israel, driving the Jews “into the sea.” I don’t buy the anti-imperialist solidarity with these forces.

ST: A final question. “That which produces the general good is always terrible”: to what extent do you identify with this formula of Saint-Just’s? In what sense is the reinvention of a “new form of Terror,” to put it in your terms, a necessary condition for a contemporary emancipatory politics?

I think the French Revolution, this violent explosion of egalitarian terror, is crucial. Before, terror simply meant the “mob” erupting in violence, but they don’t take over—they simply kill. I am speaking of the Jacobin Terror. This is the key event. You either buy it or you don’t.

[Appeared in Soft Targets on March 14th 2007.]