An American Utopia: Fredric Jameson in Conversation with Stanley Aronowitz

An American Utopia: Fredric Jameson in Conversation with Stanley Aronowitz

– Welcome to The Graduate Center. My name is Chase Robinson. I’m the Interim President
of The Graduate Center, and it is a great pleasure and privilege to make a few words, by
the way, of introduction before I introduce the introducer. The Graduate Center, as
many of you will know, is home to about 5,000
students, 1800 faculty, depending on how you count
them, 30 PhD programs, 30, 35 research centers and institutes. We are a matrix of doctoral
training, advanced research, and public programming. We educate the leading
scholars of tomorrow, and we create and interpret
bodies of knowledge from anthropology through
to urban education, which we disseminate for the public good. Now, literary and political theory and now increasingly economic
and scientific theory have been and are becoming
even moreso strengths of The Graduate Center, and
tonight it is a great pleasure to welcome and introduce
to you two grand theorists. The topic of tonight’s
event is An American Utopia: Frederic Jameson in conversation
with Stanley Aronowitz. Now, as I said, I will
be turning the microphone over to distinguished
professor Andre Aciman, who has the pleasure of
introducing our two speakers. But I should say in closing
that this is very much a coordinated effort that
reflects the collaborative nature of our faculty and our students, and the proof of that is
the number of entities in The Graduate Center which
are co-sponsoring the event. The main driver is
Professor Aciman himself, distinguished professor, as I said, of comparative literature, and indeed the program
in comparative literature is an important sponsor, and I should say parenthetically that
we’re all very pleased to see that the program
of comparative literature is now offering a critical
theory certificate. Joining the program in
comparative literature is The Writer’s Institute,
The Center for the Study of Culture, Technology, and Work, The Office of Public Programs, The Center for the Humanities, The Doctoral Students Council, and The Political Science
Graduate Student Association. So I thank all of them
for working together to bring the night’s
activities to fruition, as I thank and pass the
microphone over to Andre Aciman. Andre? (audience applauds) I think I’m going to have to
take this sweater off, too. – Good evening. It’s really a pleasure
to see such a full house. There are two other rooms
that are equally full and that have live streaming. So this is good. Thank you very much, President Robinson. One of the things that
Chase Robinson did not say is that his office was also
part of the symbiotic relation that we have here in what is called a collaborative endeavor
at The Graduate Center. Everybody works together. The other thing that I
haven’t mentioned yet is that all this is also
possible because students are involved in bringing
about an event like this, and I should also mention
that there’s one student in particular, Claire
Summers, who’s sitting there, who is responsible for
making these things happen, because she’s literally
indefatigable and intrepid, and if you think you
don’t have to be intrepid and indefatigable to
bring about such an event, you don’t know anything about events. What makes this event
particularly meaningful to The Graduate Center is
that it represents the capping of our long and arduous struggle to bring about a critical
theory certificate program. That means that graduate
students at The Graduate Center in the humanities and the social sciences will take five courses and earn with that a certificate in critical theory, a wonderful boon to people who are thinking
ahead about job prospects. (audience laughs)
We’ve done so… Well, if you think that’s irrelevant, yes. You’re laughing because you
know how meaningful that is. (audience laughs)
It’s a good thing. But it was a struggle to bring it about, and it takes a lot of, again,
pugnaciousness to bring it on. We have done successfully this, and now we’re moving onto a new venture, which is another program for the people in literature in particular,
a translation certificate. We haven’t decided yet if it’s going to be a certificate or not, but
that’s where we’re headed. So we look for more work, more innovation, and more enterprise. Today is an important day for me, because most of you here
are graduate students, but it represents also a
moment in my own graduate year. In 1973, I was in my first
year as a graduate student in comparative literature,
and I was flummoxed, and I was lost, because we were in the cusp
of a very meaningful moment, and at that point, I remember
a green colored book. It had a green cover, and it was called The
prison-house of language, written by Professor
Jameson, published in 1972, and it was, for me, a great help to understand A, what was linguistics and why was everybody
talking about linguistics. Never heard of that subject before. Second of all, what was the
formalist movement in Russia? What did it sort of promise? And third of all, what on earth in 1972,
73, was structuralism? Most of you may not know
what structuralism is, because you know what
post-structuralism is. But in those years, it was very confusing. So it gives me an enormous
amount of pleasure to introduce Professor Jameson, who is the William Elaine Junior Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of Romance
Languages at Duke University. He’s a noted cultural critic. He’s the author of several books, including The Political Unconscious, Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, Postmodern or the Cultural
Logic of Late Capitalism, Archaeologies of the Future, most recently, The Antinomies Of Realism, and the second book that I purchased, Marxism and Form in those years. Professor Jameson received the Award for Lifetime Scholarly Achievement from the Modern Language Association. There is a moment in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus says, “A prophet
is not without honor, “except in his own town “among his relatives and in his own home.” Prophets are never praised in their home, but tonight, we’re really
happy to praise one of our own. Stanley Aronowitz is a
distinguished professor at the CUNY Graduate Center
and the director of the Center for the Study of Cultural,
Technology, and Work. He’s an advocate for
organized labor and the author of several books,
including False Promises: The Shaping of American
Working Class Consciousness, Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future, and most recently, Taking It Big: C. Wright Mills and the Making
of Political Intellectuals. He’s also the co-founder
of Situations Journal. In 2012, Professor
Aronowitz, our own prophet, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Stony Brook University’s Center for Study of Working Life. I leave you to these two highly gifted and competent men to discuss, read, talk, and possibly argue. Thank you. (audience applauds) – Thanks very much, Andre, and I’m very happy to be here
in particular to celebrate this critical theory certificate, which is certainly close to my own heart. Now, having spent a
number of years arguing that utopia is to be defined as what we can’t imagine
within this society, and that that’s precisely
its use, its political use, I find myself in the embarrassing position of having to try to invent one after all. There is, in fact, something like a reality
principal within fantasy. Even to fantasize what doesn’t exist, you have to be able to talk yourself into a framework in which dreaming about it is still
somehow practically possible. So I find myself in a no man’s land between political strategy
and utopian aspiration in which those boundary lines, again, become blurred or undetectable,
in which I can’t be sure whether I’m proposing a political
program or utopian vision, neither of which, according to me, ought to be possible any longer. Why not? Well, the left once had
a political program. It was called revolution. No one seems to believe in it anymore, partly because the agency supposed to bring it
about has disappeared. Partly because the system
it was supposed to replace has become too complicated
and too omnipresent to begin to imagine replacing it. Partly because nobody
believes in revolution anymore and the very language
associated with it has become as old-fashioned and as archaic as that of the founding fathers. It’s easier, someone once said, to imagine the end of the world than
it is the end of capitalism, and with that, the idea of revolution overthrowing capitalism
seems to have vanished. Well, let’s be fair. The left did have another
political strategy, whatever you think about
it, and that was reformism, sometimes, in contradistinction to revolutionary communism,
called socialism. But I’m afraid no one believes
in that any longer either. The reformist or social democratic parties are in a complete shambles. They have no programs any
longer, save perhaps to regulate capitalism so it doesn’t
do any catastrophic damage. There is omnipresent corruption, both in these parties and
in the system at large, which isn’t any case too
enormous and too complex to be susceptible of
any decisive tinkering which might improve it, let alone lead to something you could
truly call systemic change. Social democracy is on our
time irreparably bankrupt, and communism seems dead. Thus, it would seem both of Gramsci’s celebrated alternatives, the war of maneuver and
the war of position, no longer seem theoretically adequate to the current situation. Fortunately, there exists
a third kind of transition out of capitalism, which
is less often acknowledged, let alone discussed, and that’s what was
historically called dual power. Indeed, dual power will
be my political program and will lead to my utopian proposal, as I’ll try to show in a moment. The phrase is, of course,
associated with Lenin and his description of the coexistence of the provisional government
and the network of Soviets or Worker Soldiers Councils in 1917, a genuine transitional
period if there ever was one, but it has also existed
in numerous other forms of interest to us today. I would most notably single out the way in which organizations like
the Black Panthers or Hamas function to provide daily
services, food kitchens, garbage collection, healthcare, water inspection, and the like, in areas neglected by some
official central government. In such situations, power
moves to the networks to which you turn for practical help and
leadership on a daily basis. In effect, they become an alternative, an alternate government
without officially challenging the ostensibly legal structure. The point at which a confrontation and a transfer of power takes place, at which the official government
begins to whither away, at which revolutionary violence appears, will of course vary with the overall political
and cultural context itself. It’s not necessary to
supply a historical catalog of these anomalous structures
of transitional coexistence, which range from the
dualities of church and state in some periods to that of local communes in
the French Revolution, most notably the first
commune, La Commune de Paris, that supported still informal power. What might be more useful
would be to indicate the kinds of events of
structures which cannot be considered as relevant
examples of dual power. Enclaves, for example,
such as Chapas or Ecotopia or the Free Zones or the Maroons, which are spatially separate
from the dominant state and have their own autonomy. I would also suggest that current
form of the mass uprising, from the Arab Spring to Occupy, does not really qualify either. The first of these two
revolutionary phenomenon, the enclave, stands as a
kind of state within a state. The second, the uprising
as a spatial event which pioneers information technology as a substitute for
political organization, nor would I wanna underplay the importance of the residual forms of
the more classic forms of revolution I mentioned
at the beginning, the armed uprising, a guerrilla warfare, serving to demonstrate the weaknesses of the state apparatus and its incapacity to constitute a genuine
popular government, to use a word we probably need to replace, as you’ll see in a moment. As for the older political parties such as the various socialist
ones that I’ve mentioned, although they’re incapable of achieving any real change in their own right, they cut, nonetheless,
their best service platforms for discursive struggle and its vehicles for the renewed public
consideration of hitherto repressed and stigmatized transformational policies, such as the wholesale
nationalization of banks, insurance companies, and utilities; the taxation of the great corporations and the gradual transfer of wealth from the upper one
percent of the population, and the eventual abolition
of inheritance as such, the establishment of a minimum
annual wage for everyone, and the reorganization
of the political system, the dissolution of NATO, the reform of an unequal federalism, the popular control of the media, free healthcare and education, universal wifi, and so on, and so forth. The function of political
parties is to legitimate these slogans and demands and to
make them thinkable once again, even if they can’t achieve them, and that’s accomplishment
enough, I would think. As for genuine revolutionary
change, however, that will be the function, as I wanna suggest here, of dual power, and it’s now time to examine
our society as it is today in order to weigh the
chances for such dual power and to identify those
already-existing institutions which could be its vehicle. Traditionally, of course,
it’s to the labor unions which the left has always turned as to its base and its
natural constituency. The very nature of the
proletariat has been transformed and enlarged by the transformation of peasants into farm workers, by underpaid service industries, and by the white collar workers in the now immense government bureaucracy. On the other hand, as everyone knows, the original industrial character of work has itself been reduced by
informational technology and the power of the
unions greatly diminished. Traditionally, in any case,
there was always a tension between the unions and
the political parties, which had different aims, nor must we underestimate
the success of anti-union propaganda during the
dissolution of the New Deal that is for the whole
of the Cold War period by way of alleged
association with the mafia, with corruption, with the
stigma of identification as a special interest,
ridiculous expression, as we call lobbying groups over here. The defeat in Wisconsin after
one of the most encouraging political developments in
recent years is sad proof that this kind of anti-union
prejudice persists unabated. So unions no longer
offer an effective chance at dual power, even if they ever did, and maybe we should conclude
actually that in this society it’s the mafia which offers
the most suggestive example of already-existing dual power. However, its effectiveness
seemed to have waned as significantly as that
of the unions themselves. What other candidates can we identify to play the role I’ve been imagining? Almost all of them have suffered the institutional debilitation
endemic to late capitalism. Take, for example, the post office. In Europe, it’s a kind
of savings bank as well. Here, it offers a parallel to the census and could presumably, along
with your motor vehicle agency, secure your voting rights. It distributes retirement, pension, and Social Security
checks and is apparently even developing some kind of
institutional relationship with its once-mortal enemy, the internet. It mints money in the form of stamps. It used to be an important
source of employment, particularly for those seeking
to drop out of the system as inconspicuously as possible, and generally on foot. It offers a unique experience of nature, (audience laughs)
as well as of urban space and an equally unique
relationship to the community where that still exists. But once again, information
technology now stands as an absolute historical
break with whatever utopias might have been imagined on the basis of this uniquely relational system. The professionals do not
seem any more promising. The legal profession, for example, could scarcely stand in
competition with the state insofar as it is the
state in the first place, something confirmed by
the loss of autonomy of the judiciary system in our time. For an aging population,
the medical profession might seem to offer
more promising material, insofar as its benefits and
necessities come doubled by that sort of moral authority with which Plato wanted to
surround his philosopher kings. But the privatization of the hospitals and the institutionalization
of the private practitioner bid fare to strip away that aura and the doctors have, for the most part, had to bow to the economic
power of insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants
while their guilds, such as the AMA, which once
functioned as a powerful anti-political lobby on the order of the National Rifle Association are probably no longer very effective. Then there are the churches, many of which do function
as a nation within a nation and provide solace and
the proverbial haven in a heartless world to families alienated by late capitalism. Nor was Robespierre wrong, it seems to me, to call, following Jean-Jacques,
for a state religion, a secular religion of reason of some kind, insofar as neither had any other concept for what necessarily
binds a society together. I suggest that rather
than religion as such, it’s the existence of a fetish that provides social
cohesion in those instances in which the latter has been possible. The American Constitution,
the French conception of the République, of the
Japanese emperor system, certain repressed national languages, these are so many examples
of fetishes which have proved more successful than the
usual forms of patriotism and dynastic succession, and any utopia hopeful of duration will have
to discover such a fetish, for it cannot be invented,
and probably already secretly exists in the
hearts of its citizens in whatever as yet unimaginable form. Excuse me. Religion, however, is
clearly the most dangerous of all candidates for
dual power, based as it is in what Kant would have
called a subreption, a mistaking of superstructure for base. Religion, as we’ve seen for some time, is an invitation to all
kinds of private obsessions and violence, but I don’t either recommend an enlightenment program for
the elimination of religion in general and specific
religions in particular. They should be allowed to
run as wild as possible, but should be abandoned
to the sphere of culture, as I’ll try to argue in a moment. What is then left as a
vehicle for dual power? Stanley Aronowitz once
observed that in the future, as computers are down 20% of the time, the true levers of power will lie in the hands of
the computer repairmen, with a proletariat of
third-world women turning out the machines, and a financial
elite reaping the benefits. (audience laughs) That may be. But we’re not talking
about power as such here, but rather an ambiguous
political framework in which, in a dual system,
power can be observed to slip from one to the other. This is then the moment to explain, if you haven’t already guessed it, that there’s only one system left which can function in so
truly revolutionary a fashion. This is a thought that
must have first come to me many years ago, inspired by an image by one of our greatest political
cartoonists of that time, or for forever. I think it must have
been in the first year of Eisenhower’s presidency, probably not still during the campaign, when the last vestiges of
the New Deal still survived and in particular,
Truman’s ill-fated campaign for socialized medicine
on the then-contemporary British labor model and Canada’s adoption of it beginning in
Saskatchewan in those years. Ike, presumably still in
full military regalia, perches informally on the edge of his desk in the oval office and
observes, conversationally, “Well, if they want socialized medicine, “they have only to join
the army, as I did.” (audience laughs) The implication is as crystal
clear as a thunderbolt. Only the army constitutes
a state within the state, capable of assuming
the structural function and promise of dual power. And this alarming proposition
will make up the argument of the concluding part of this talk from both political and
utopian perspectives. Now, the army we currently have is what’s called a volunteer army, that is, a commercial
profession like any other. I probably don’t have to remind you of the history of citizens armies, from the Greeks to Machiavelli, and very much including
the French Revolution. These armies, based on the draft, had political missions,
most notably in modern times to forge the nation out
of a variety of local and provincial populations, sometimes not even speaking
the national language, itself a political creation of the new national state, in any case. To be sure, nowadays the
media have already done that for us, but the usefulness of
the analogy lies in the fact that in our federal system,
the army is virtually the only institution to
transcend the jurisdictions of state laws and boundaries,
divisions which are among the most important
counterrevolutionary principles embedded in the American Constitution, itself one of the most successful counterrevolutionary
documents ever devised. No genuine systemic
change can take place here without an abrogation of the Constitution, a foundational fetish as I’ve claimed, and in fact a document the left itself would be as loathed to
forfeit as the right, owing to the protections
of the Bill of Rights. The single advantage
of the army as a system is that it transcends that document without doing away with it. It coexists with it at a
different spatial level and becomes thereby potentially
an extraordinary instrument in the erection of dual power. You also know, I’m sure,
that Nixon ended the draft in order to put an end to
popular, and in particular, student resistance to the war in Vietnam. Johnson had already modified the draft with hosts of class and racial exemptions in order to limit its political impact. More recently, during the Iraq War, what we may call the Rumsfeld period, this professional army has
been further privatized, and I insist on the relevance of this term for the way in which it
underscores the relationship with the variety of other
privatizations all over the world inaugurated by
the Reagan-Thatcher regimes. Rumsfeld further privatized
this already specialized and salaried private army by outsourcing many of its functions
to private corporations of the Blackwater type and by introducing complex
advanced technology in order to render other portents of the military workforce redundant, that is, by downsizing
them via mechanization, a process Marx already
described in Capital. I put it to you that this
very significant moment in the history of the modern army had a political purpose above
and beyond its adaptation of current late capitalists
business practices, and that purpose was to remove
this small professional group possessing Max Weber’s
proverbial monopoly of violence from any possibility of
mass democratic action, and furthermore to assimilate it to the structure of the police force, which it now has become on a global scale. So, the first step in
my utopian proposal is, so to speak, the
renationalization of the army along the lines of any number
of other socialist candidates for nationalization, some of
which I’ve already mentioned, and by reintroducing
the draft to transform the present armed fores back
into that popular mass force capable of coexisting
successfully with an increasingly unrepresentative representative government into a vehicle for mass democracy, rather than the representative kind. Now, inasmuch as you’ll
continue to associate the army with the various coup
d’état of modern times all over the world as
well as with all the wars it’s been called on to
wage in recent years and is still being called on to wage, I will at once specify the most important steps in the process. First of all, the body
of eligible draftees would be increased by including
everyone of both sexes from 16 to 50, or if you
prefer, 60 years of age; that is, the entire population. Such an unmanageable
population would henceforth be incapable of waging foreign wars, let alone carrying out successful coups. (audience laughs) In order to emphasize the
universality of that process, let’s add that the handicapped will all be found appropriate
positions in the system and that pacifists and
conscientious objectors will be placed in control of arms
development and arms storage, (audience laugh) and the like. Now I need to remind you of the breadth of the military system, particularly under the
pre-Rumsfeld dispensation. We can begin with medical
attention, and in particular, the hospitals, which, as you know, are currently in desperate straits, at a moment when the hospitals themselves, the other hospitals, the private kind, have become big business in
this country, to our disgrace. In our new universal system, of course, the military hospitals become a free national health
service, open to everyone, insofar as everyone is a
service person or a personnel or veteran, and the
entire center of gravity of universal healthcare,
and also, I would add, pharmaceutical production,
disease control, and the experimentation
with and production of new medicines, would now
be organized around the army. We may also assume a reorientation of education itself under its auspices, not merely for the children
of this military population, but for various advanced degrees. Nowadays it’s difficult to think of any kind of advanced training, maybe except for business schools, which would not be required
within this system, the Army Corps of Engineers
is the obvious example, and we may think of the socialist
or ex-socialist countries for models of our situation
in which the various armies included, and I think in
China, maybe still do, such functions as the
manufacture of clothing, the production of films, the eventual production of motor vehicles, and even, in China, for example, again, a writers union in which
intellectuals and writers and artists find their space and income. The army is also notoriously
the source of manpower for disaster relief,
infrastructure repair, and construction and the like, and the question of food
supply would immediately place this institution, if it
can still be called that, in charge of the ordering
and supply of food production and therefore in a controlling position for that fundamental activity as well. In fact, as this new army
will no longer be defined by war and the profession of warfare, and I’ve avoided foreign
policy in this sketch. I’m inclined to follow
the utopian tradition and recommend a healthy
isolationism for the new system. As war will no longer become available to shape this new army’s
activities, it seems clear that its place will be
taken by natural disasters of which we can expect ever more, and worse ones in this climate, along perhaps with economic disasters, the economic disasters of capitalism, which can be expected to
be reduced by the abolition of the banks and the
gradual nationalization of all sectors of the economy. But as our current army and the country of which it is the expression
is a culture of violence, it may seem paradoxical to recommend the problem
as its own solution. But consider that at once,
all the guns and firepower within our borders become the
property of the army itself, and are thus automatically registered, and then in a universal system, rape and other forms of violence
can no longer remain concealed and the equality of men and women becomes a universal social
reality so inevitable that it seems to be a mere fact of nature rather than a lofty ideal of some kind. And obviously there are
many more negatives features of this kind to be addressed, the social and psychological
results of a society whose superstructures are
organized around the supreme value of competition and its
symbolic exemplifications in sexual identity, sports, business practices, and social intercourse and encapsulated in new
forms such as the high school hazing dramas and other adolescent comedy and adventure stereotypes,
which set the tone and intellectual level of much
of contemporary mass culture. The gradual transformation
of subjectivities as they adapt or are reprogrammed to new infrastructural realities is
called cultural revolution, and I’ll touch on it implicitly later on. But it may be worthwhile saying something about the survival of older institutions in the situation of dual
power I’ve been imagining. It might be well, for example, to remember that when Augustus founded
that the Roman Empire, as such, in distinction
to the ancient kingdoms, as memory was important to that tradition, he left the institutions of
the Roman Republic in place. The Senate continued to meet
and to debate in its customary fashion, but no one paid any
attention to it any longer. One thinks of Pierre
Clastres’s old analysis of the tribal chiefdom before state power. His function was not
to command but to talk, endlessly, perhaps, but without authority. And this rhetorical gift
remains an essential if unanalyzed component
of modern political power, an aesthetic or perhaps a
poetic component as such. But perhaps this is also the place to add another classical analogy as a way of dealing with the fear of
charismatic or dictatorial leadership in the modern
political unconscious. The ancients transformed
this unresolvable problem of the individual leader
into yet another institution, the one, indeed, from which
we derive our word dictator, namely, an individual endowed
with exceptional power, the power of exception, if you prefer, for a limited period of time only, after which he sank back into
equality with the population, and was, in fact, often banished. We may indeed link this extremely
provisional personal power with another ancient institution, namely, the temple of Janus, whose
gates were ceremonially opened at the onset of a war and
closed to signal its conclusion. I’ve already suggested
that wars will not be tasks for this new system,
which will be confronted with other kinds of
collective crises such as, above all, ecological ones. But it’s always well to
remember William James’s famous remark, whose genial
insight was made dramatic by its paradoxical
misconception, for in America, wars are the moral equivalent
of collection action, as witness, the great American
utopia of World War II. Yet new kinds of crises
might well be moments in which charismatic dictatorship
is temporarily required, and its limits and
obligatory provisionality might well be signaled by
the opening and closing of just such ceremonial gates as those of the temple of Janus. But now we approach the point
at which a political program necessarily of this kind,
necessarily passes over into that very different kind of thing which is the utopian project. And I’m aware that these modes of thinking often seem incompatible and indeed arouse the hostility of both
sides to one another. Political theory takes as its object problems without solutions. Utopian speculation,
solutions without problems. The first constitutes an ontology which is necessarily obliged
to work within the limits of being and of reality
as it currently exists. The latter, utopian speculation, aims at a radical transformation
of the present and the system. In that respect, it remains the sibling of revolutionary thought and today occupies the place
of a revolutionary politics which is not yet fully reemerged
from the transformations of globalization and post-modernity, of finance capital on a world scale. Utopian thinking demands a revision of Gramsci’s great slogan. It might run like this: cynicism of the intellect;
utopianism of the will. On the other hand, it’s obvious that unlike revolutionary politics, the utopian impulse is always
transmitted through individual rather than collective wish fulfillment and always reflects the private
fantasies of its inventors who are readily identified
as crackpots and oddballs, solitary lunatics whose
ravings and imaginings draw their strength, if they have any, precisely from their distance from society and worldliness rather
than their knowledge of it. Still, one might cite
some eminent authorities, like, quote, “the great socialist utopias “of the 19th century
function not as ideal models “but as group fantasies,
that is, as agents “of the real productivity of desire, “making it possible to disinvest
the current social field, “to deinstitutionalize it, “to further the revolutionary
institution of desire itself.” That’s Deleuze and Guattari. Still this is the point at which we pass from strategies about which
we can reasonably argue, that one about the
universal army, I think, to the multiplicity of
fantasies and possibilities, the variety of content
and decoration, with which we may fill out the basic
framework of the scheme, all of which is simply
to say that from now on, the project and its description will be far more a
private utopia of my own, for which others may wish to substitute their own particular obsessions. However, at this point,
also two further things need to be said against political theory and practical politics as such. I’ve already commented on the antagonism between the practical-political
and the utopian, but I should point out
again that it was there even in an earlier time
when changing the system and replacing it was called revolution. The incremental changes
and corrections at stake in day-to-day politics and even yesterday in the socialist or reform
parties has always found the revolutionary or the
utopian totalizing demands and positions exacerbating and
a waste of precious energies, whether they took the form
of terrorist or voluntarist, interventions were ivory tower frivolity, ’cause there’s always, I
think, in American politics, a latent anti-intellectualism. I think we need to maintain a
serious double standard here, and while supporting
all the local struggle is ever more urgent and
desperate in the heartland of late capitalism today,
we need to keep alive the ideal of a radical
or revolutionary change, one which is today mostly
preserved in utopia rather than in political thought. But I had in mind a more
specific theoretical objection to political theory, and it has to do with the very nature of the
concepts with which it works. Bellamy, as is well
known, not only imagined his utopian industrial or universal army, on which I draw for this sketch. He also became a practical
politician whose party, new party, enjoyed unrivaled
success in the great era of populism at the end
of the 19th century. He called it the National Party, and I suppose as my whole
talk here is an exercise in American exceptionalism, I can’t object to such nationalism, but let me say another word
about terms like nation, which attempt to
characterize the collective. That particular word seems to
have had a linguistic origin. It was the name for the various foreign language-speaking
students in medieval Paris, who, of course, spoke a
non-national language, Latin, in their theology classes
in the university. But I wanna make a
philosophical point here. I suppose it’s a Kantian
once, since it involves the impossibility of thinking
certain kinds of things, such as that peculiar thing in itself called consciousness,
which no human philosopher has ever been able to describe. I think it’s the same
with collective reality. That is, owing to our individuation as biological individuals,
it is impossible collective reality to conceptualize. But we can list the attempts to do so: groups, communities, Gemeinschaften, mobs, crowds, tribes, clans, democracy, republic, cooperatives, peoples,
nations, and even multitudes. None of these words correspond to the thing I’ve been calling collective by way of picking the most
neutral term I can think of, which of course all of these terms end up being ideological in the long run and pushing a certain kind of politics. For all such terms which
cannot succeed in naming the unconceptualizable
fact, not of the other, but of the multiple and the plural end up being drawn into the service of this or that ideology. On peut pas venir, said Deleuze wisely, implying that any implication that it already existed was an impression and a normative or repressive ideology. This is why the plural cannot have majorities or
minorities or pluralities, and incidentally, why
Rousseau’s social contract is the only intelligent
political work ever written, starting as it does from
this representational problem and the fact that the
collectivity is unthinkable. This is also why political science as a discipline cannot be substantive. Either it’s a history,
hopefully involving relentless ideological and philosophical
demystification, or it produces handbooks
for practical techniques in a given status quo where
it must ceaselessly camouflage its origins in the one
supremely great model never to be repeated,
namely, Machiavelli’s Prince. I can’t resist giving an example of the theoretical bankruptcy
of political theory or at least of some of those
contemporary ideological uses, an example which actually has some relevance to our current topic. A while back, this
discipline formed a concept aligned to pseudo-scientific
state by its economic language, and that was the idea of underdevelopment, a category which assumed that development and national autonomy were still possible, something the work of Robert
Kurz completely undermined, and has, for that reason, been passed over in a
conspiracy of silence. This pseudo-concept was
then laterally followed and replaced by another one, a new one, more obviously neo-conservative
in Iraqi-Afghan origin, and that’s the slogan of the failed state. This idea is all the more
ridiculous in the light of the fact that today, all
stated are failed states, very much including the
one we’re in right now. None of them function. None can even be patched up with the various political
strings and Band-Aids. Not even the dictatorships work anymore, and one is, reluctantly or not
drawn to Samuel Huntington’s scandalous proposition that
the more democracy there is, the less governable a state, indeed, that genuine
democracy is ungovernable. We must, however, draw the
opposite conclusion from his, and, as a consequence, abandon government altogether. In fact, no one wants even a failed, even a non-failed,
successful, functioning state in the first place, and
indeed, in practice, almost all the factions on either side aren’t one in denouncing
the state as such. But the state is the
object and the privileged subject matter of political science. And the latter is impossible,
simply because the thing I’m provisionally calling collectively is not only impossible to
think; it’s impossible to form in any kind of state in the first place. So for collectivity,
let’s go a little further and substitute the even more neutral term and reality of population as such. This was also Rousseau’s great insight. It is population which is both the conceptual and social scandal. That philosophically fearful
thing called the other, which has haunted modern
thought in recent years, is in reality plural, and it’s population as such
which constitutes otherness. Not overpopulation, as Malthus thought. Nothing underpopulation,
as the early 20th century French thought, along with
other countries today, but simply sheer plurality
and multiplicity. Nor is this scandal of the
real to be avoided in the other direction be retreating
into nostalgic microgroups or clans of a fantasy ethnic type, today’s politics, the imaginary players in the so-called culture wars
of current American politics. These singularities are
as ineffectual in theory and as in practice as the universalities they’re supposed to subvert. But I wanna add a fundamental
proviso to all this about social class, namely, that class is not a concept of this kind. It doesn’t seek to name
a form of collectivity, despite numerous misuses of that kind. Class simply names an economic locality, a position within the capitalist system. The class in itself is an
analytic and descriptive term, and Marx never used it any other way, however much he may have
recommended organization, combination they called it, and the achievement of
class consciousness, that is, the notion of a class for itself, the struggle over class
constitution, as Stanley puts it. Marx was, I venture to say,
productivist, but not workerist, and the term proletariat,
in the early theory, in the writings, the early
theory of the weakest link, was not necessarily a
class concept, although one could certainly subscribe
to it in all kinds of ways, as Marcuse did in the 1960s. Marx analyzed the
contradictions of capitalism, and he was also a great
political strategist, but maybe not exclusively
a class-based one. Anyway, I wanted you to
understand that I don’t include the term class among the
various words for collective that I was criticizing. So indeed, my critiques
of these various attempts to conceptualize and philosophize that reality I can only call
as neutrally as possible the group or the collectivity must finally arrive at
the following point, that from Aristotle to Kant and on, the ultimate aim and
endpoint of political theory lies in the drafting of a constitution, conceived as bringing
to an end revolution, revolution as such, rather than standing as its apotheosis. I like Toni Negri’s masterful analysis in which he shows how the
arrival of constituted constitutional power shuts down
that brief moment of freedom of the constituant of the
construction of power. But remember that the strengths
of the universal army scheme is that it cuts across
the federal constitution in a wholly novel way,
transgressing its boundaries and carefully-drawn limits without annulling it,
leaving its map intact beneath a wholly different topology. So let me now propose another
thought about the political, a revival of the most stigmatized slogan of traditional Marxism, and
that’s the infamous distinction between base and superstructure, which Marx, I think, only used
once, as far as I can see. I’ve often suggested in the
past that it’s a mistake to take this distinction
of base and superstructure as a principle or dogma
inherent to Marxism as a system of thought; rather, it should always be
considered as a starting point and an initial problem as Marxism’s fundamental contribution
to a whole new problematic. Base and superstructure are,
in other words, a beginning, and not a conclusion,
a laboratory experiment and not some tenet of a
quasi-religious belief. But in the present context, I
want to affirm this opposition far more decisively. The base or superstructure
is the realm of necessity. It’s the realm of production and the dictate of the
production of value. I won’t enter here into
the interminable tradition of Marxian debates about the state, except to say that in my current proposal, the state is simply the
mode of organization of production itself, which
is to say, in this instance, the universal army, something somewhere between
a universal democracy, a political party, and a bureaucracy, so every one their own
bureaucrat, in other words. So the infrastructure is a
Bellamy-type regimentation, an industrial army, an order which offers a feasible path to utopia at the same time that it arouses multiple kinds of fears and stirs the deepest
layers of the unconscious in a variety of ways. It awakens, indeed, all
the fears of utopia itself, while adding to them those of dystopia, such fears of power and
totalitarian military control and the like, combining the anxiety about the withering away of the
state and impending anarchy, with that of the
overdevelopment of the state in some kind of implacable
and standardizing machine. So this is certainly the moment to affirm that in this scheme, the superstructure, the realm of culture, will be conceived, in counterdistinction to the
base, as the realm of freedom. Here, a single name
sums up the whole answer and can stand in counterpoise
to the tutelary image of Bellamy that presides
over the infrastructure, and that name is Jean Ferrié. Ferrié, to my mind,
represents absolute freedom and the only possible way
in which a collectivity or multiplicity can coordinate its ineradicable individualities. As against most of the great
revolutionary traditions, I believe it is essential to avoid left Puritanism at all costs, to reduce the inevitable
repressions any social order interiorizes in order to cohere, and to welcome the most
outrageous self-indulgences and personal freedom of
its citizens in all things, very much including
Puritanism and the hatred of self-indulgence and personal freedoms. Ferrié it is who squares this circle, and this is why, at the very
center of our new society there will appear a new
kind of institution, destined to supplant
traditional government agencies and executives of all kinds. We may provisionally
call this new institution the psychoanalytic placement bureau, (audience laughs) and it will, in conjunction with unimaginably
complex computer systems, handle and organize all
forms of employment, of universal employment, of
course, as well as all manner of personal and collective therapies. Mediating between the
individual and the collective, and you may insert innumerable
familial structures and groups of your
choosing in between them, the new institution will
combine the functions of a union and a hospital, an employment office and a court, a market research
agency, a polling bureau, and a social welfare center. (audience laughs) Presumably, what’s left of
the police as an institution will eventually be to
attach to and transform by this central agency,
which will itself eventually replace government and
political structures as such, The state, thereby
withering away into some enormous group therapy.
(audience laughs) This development is only
possible at the price of a radical disjunction
of base and superstructure or of production from culture itself. We used to call this
disjunction work and leisure, but hopefully the influence of Ferrié will dissolve this opposition
on the personal level. But in the current intellectual climate, I think it’s important to insist on a radical permissiveness, on an absolute freedom
in the cultural realm, including the freedom
to do nothing at all, to drug yourself into oblivion. A guaranteed annual
minimum wage does of course make this utopia of this
utopia a paradise for slackers, yet this society is wealthy
enough to let them go their way, and Ferrié will help us absorb
the envy and bitterness, the sad passions, indeed,
the hatred which will follow them from other workers in this vineyard, such as a religious fundamentalists. But at our present
stage of post-modernity, no future society can
retreat into older kinds of order and discipline, unless indeed you like that kind of thing. One imagines a multitude
of distinct ideological collectivities, scattered
through this space like the distinctive cities of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. As for crime, or more
accurately put, the anti-social, as someone with a horror
of the death penalty and of prisons generally, I recommend a return to
the old Greek and Zoros traditions of banishment,
but I also propose adoption of Samuel Delany’s
magnificent institution in his utopian novel Triton of a so-called unlicensed center where no
law exists and anything goes. In fact, it has occurred to me today that that might be a good idea for cities, generally, for people who
don’t want to have to live in phalansteries or
hearths, as David puts it. On the other hand, it’s clearly
a loss of whatever we think is freedom, which is the
centerpiece of all conservative, not to say anti-utopian politics, and which will certainly be
reactivated with a vengeance by a plan like this for the
total militarization of America. The whole history of
anticommunist ideology lies here, and it’s been instilled in us for 65 years or 220, or even the thousands of years since the emergency of the state itself, depending on your periodization. It is that immemorial brainwashing and deep, unconscious
anti-utopian and anti-collectivist habituation which any utopian thinking must confront before it ever gets a chance to spread its wings
imaginatively and positively, as Ferrié was able to do. Thus, the anti-utopian imagination today, at a moment when anti-socialism
has been enlarged into anti-governmental
prejudice in general, is placed in the defensive
position of argumentation and refutation before it
can even begin to imagine. So our first task is diagnostic, to isolate the anti-utopian prejudice in order to treat it more effectively. And as for the universal
utopian army I proposed here, you have to remember that
it would come into being in an age of multiple subject positions, which is to say multiple group formations, since the old-fashioned individual subject is scarcely with us any longer. Therefore, you have to
remember that any member of the universal army
will also be a member of multiple other limited
groups of ethnic, cultural, lifestyle, superstructural types, all at the same time. But the universal army
is that fetish of unity which must persist within
any coherent social order, and my wager has been that
it’s a different kind of fetish from those of past societies. As a unity, it subsists over and above the multiple groups and associations that are the content
of our individual lives in a different way than
the old-fashioned state, and I think with that, I’ll end. Thank you very much.
(audience applauds) – I’m gonna confine my remarks to some commentary on
Fred’s provocative paper. In the context of that commentary, I’ll introduce some ideas that might not have been made explicit. The first question I want to address is the problem of utopia itself. The beginning of Jameson’s paper seems to indicate that the utopian project is virtually impossible, as also revolution is impossible, and what it reminded me of,
when I read the paper… I have a copy of most
of it, not all of it. He fooled around with
the paper that I have, so I had to even listen. I’m just kidding.
(audience laughs) Marcuse’s end of utopia,
in his five lectures, makes a coherent, it seems
to me, a cogent argument that one of the reasons that
utopia is no longer possible is because if utopia
represents the impossible, then developed capitalist society, much less other societies
that are not developed, have reached the point
where, at the global level, almost everything is possible. And if everything is possible, the problem is no longer
the problem of utopia. The problem is the problem
of some kind of vision on the one hand, which we heard tonight, or late this afternoon, and
another kind of politics. I would suggest that nothing
that Fred has proposed, including the universal army and the transformation of the state, which is quite a big idea, and I’m going to try to
unpack it a little bit, is impossible any longer, because we’ve reached a
stage of human history where we have the means, both scientific, technological, as well as cultural, to actually change things without worrying about
the issue of scarcity. A little discursive point, here: scarcity, today, is manufactured, and I think that’s
implied in what Fred says. It’s manufactured. What late capitalism
requires is the invocation of scarcity as fear, as
one of the aspects of fear, and that, as long as
that fear is prevalent, then what happens is that
all possibility of change from the point of view of
subjectivity is foreclosed. And so what people do now, for the most part, I’m gonna qualify that in a minute, is they fight to preserve the past, and that past, generally speaking, both in the United States
and in western Europe, is really the preservation
of the social welfare state in the face of the onslaught of the right. And so we haven’t got
time, nor do we have space, the emotional or the mental
space, for the vision. And because we don’t
have time for the vision, the possibility of even alternatives that might be possible
are no longer entertained, so that for the sake of argument, as Fred has indicated, if we thought about the state no longer in the old way
as a possible future, the state as an organization,
as a coordinating agency, rather than an executive agency, and that’s an idea, by the way, which is very, very important if
you’re going to do anything. You’ve got to eliminate
the power of the state to direct the work
forces, to direct culture, to direct everything about our lives. The policy function of the
state must be severely limited. If you’re gonna look upon the state as a coordinating function and also a provision of
certain kinds of benefits that are made possible by the development that we have already witnessed,
then we have the question of what happens to the
rest of the population? What happened to social life? What happens to cultural life? And the suggestion that he makes, which I find completely compatible with my own vision of the future, is that we now have the possibility
of doing almost everything. We can tolerate as a society
those who choose not to work, because, as some of you may know, I don’t believe that
we have much work left. We are in the midst of
the jobless present, and in 1994, I wrote
a book with a graduate of The Graduate Center, Bill DiFazio. We called it The Jobless Future. We don’t really have… We have work. Don’t misunderstand me. There’s plenty of work, and people are working
their fingers to the bone. Much of it is unnecessary. Yeah, how do you keep people disciplined? You keep people disciplined
by keeping their nose to the grindstone eight,
10, 12, 15 hours a day. We don’t need that anymore. And we don’t need it globally. And so, the first real question
that we have to address is the question of, is this utopia, or is
really this exploring the possibilities that
have already been created by even the evils of
the capitalist system? I take the position, essentially, that nothing is impossible anymore. I agree with Marcuse and
with Fred in this respect. I wanna take up a second question, and that is, it seems to me, and I don’t want to use the model, but I’m going to use the word model, because in a sense, it is a model. It is also, it is not a fantasy. In the revolutionary period the Chinese, especially the Eighth Route Army, in the revolutionary period,
the Chinese implemented the politics that Fred is
actually talking about. It became essentially the administrator. The army became the administrator of virtually all of the
benefits of civilization that were possible at that time. It redistributed land and took it away, later on. It provided public education. It provided healthcare. It actually fostered, initially… I’m talking about the 30s and 40s. Initially, an agricultural
policy that fed a lot of people. It killed a lot of people, too. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not supporting the Chinese. No disrespect. But there is a model here that
has to be taken seriously, and it was done through the army, because there was no
other institution in China that was able to do that. You didn’t have the division of labor at the levels of the state. The state was completely corrupt and also decentralized in
the hands of war lords. So you had a different kind of model. That question is a significant question. What institution would
be capable of organizing the economic and social life of society without infringing on freedom, both collective freedom
and personal freedom? And here’s where the
first genuine controversy would have to be
addressed, it seems to me, in Jameson’s paper. Can we assume that a bureaucracy, and we’re not going to all be bureaucrats. I’m sorry to say that. But can we assume that a bureaucracy, which has got enormous responsibilities, even though that bureaucracy
includes putatively, that is to say, tangentially, much of the whole population. I’m not so sure that that’s… He hasn’t figured it out,
I haven’t figured it out from this paper. Can we assume that a
bureaucracy’s going to sit still? It’s going to be simply a coordinator and will not bid for power. Now, as we have seen over
and over and over again, in all of the revolutions, the Chinese revolution among them. The Russian revolution
was more complicated. The Latin American revolutions for sure. In most cases, the revolutionaries, as the army, where they were the army, took power as well as
control of the society, and the degree of personal
as well as collective freedom were severely restricted. That’s a problem. I’m not going to suggest
a solution at the moment because I do hope that what we could do is what Fred suggests, which
is to relegate the state, whether it be in the form of
the army or be it another form to a coordinating agency, but that would require having
to address at some point the question of what it means to have or to take or not to take power. And the struggle for power always entails these contradictions. You want a state which is not going to oppress
the people on the one hand. On the other hand, you have a state which is going to oppress the people. And so, the anarchist proposal, for the elimination of the state has a partial truth, which I want to simply put on the table. There is a long history,
which some of you may know, of the debate within Marxism, and Fred alludes to that
debate, about the question of the transition from
capitalism to communism, and the transition was called socialism. Let’s not fool around. The revolution is not about
revolution to socialism. The revolution is a
revolution to communism. But in the socialist phase, namely, the phase where you have a state, you still have to have the
repressive function of the state. You still have to have an army and so on. The problem with the transition, as we have seen, at the
very least, since 1917… The problem with the transition is that the transition becomes permanent. Now, certain Marxists have
tried to ascribe that permanence to the underdevelopment question, and I think Fred has done a very good job in deconstructing the
concept of development and underdevelopment. If we do not insist on
the doctrine of progress in relationship to development
and underdevelopment, then we might have to
come to the conclusion that the radical
transformation in the nature of as well as the function of the state is a condition for the possibility
of social transformation. And that’s what he proposes. And that’s what every
anarchist or quasi-anarchist, I myself do not come out
of the anarchist tradition. I come out of a council
communism tradition, and that means… Except when I was a boy Stalinist. (audience laughs) Well, I was a boy Stalinist. And you know what? I learned a lot. I really did. One of the problems of not
being a girl or a boy Stalinist is that you never get into contact with certain kinds of political
techniques and talents. I have some of those, and I didn’t get them from reading. People are appalled by this. I mean, I don’t know why
people should be appalled. Anyway. But what’s true is that the
problem that Fred raises… The army proposal is one possibility, but the problem that’s at
the core of his discourse is the problem of the state, is the problem of the form of rule, of social rule. And I must say, as a
fairly careful student of political and social theory, that is the big actions, the big void, in Lacanian terms, the big lack, in the hope and all of
political and social theory, except for the liberals. Once you decide that
you are going to accept the democratic liberal state as a given, as a precondition for any possible change, then you have become a liberal, and it doesn’t matter whether
you call yourself a socialist or call your a communist
or call yourself whatever. You are a liberal, and what
that means, essentially, is you’re taking the present system of political rule for granted. And the great virtue of this
paper that we just heard is that Fred does not
take the present system of political rule for granted. What’s the part of it that needs to be… Of the anarchism that
needs to be discussed? And that is, how would we organize economic, political, and social life? The army is a, in some sense, a proposal that would still need content. And the argument that is made by the councilists… Who broke with Communist Party right after the Bolshevik Revolution, and the argument that is
made by the anarchists are very close together, and that is, how that
society must be organized to a large extent on
the basis of councils, councils of the people. Now, if the army becomes
that kind of council, we could all it anything you want. The psychoanalytic something or other, or the army, or whatever, but in fact, it becomes
radically decentralized, and that’s the real message. The message of this paper is the radical decentralization
of social rule. I’ve got a couple of more
things and I’ll stop. Practical issues. I entirely agree with the statement that if you… Never mind about whether
it’s a question of the army. Yes, you have to do it
as this new institution of the possibility of
a democratic, small d, social rule, and the provision of areas of economic life. You have to eliminate the draft, eliminate the volunteer army,
and reintroduce the draft. The only time I ever got booed
by large numbers of students at a public rally was
at Columbia University, and this was not during the Vietnam War. It was after the Vietnam War, when Bruce Robbins and
I were on a platform. Bruce Robbins is a friend, and we’re on a platform, and I publicly called
for the end of the draft. Boo. – [Man Offscreen] For the reinstitution. – That was what I got. On the other hand, and now, of course, I went on to explain, the volunteer army is an
invitation to fascism. Once the army itself is self-selected on the basis of careers… I mean, the traditional army. On the basis of careers, on the basis of being a job substitute, on the basis of being
essentially a privatized army, which is one of the great
points of Fred’s paper, then that army is extremely dangerous for any possibility of freedom. You can’t have it. You have to have a draft, and one of the things about the draft… And he kidded around, thought maybe we’ll draft 60-year-olds and they won’t fight any wars. But during the Vietnam War,
we did not need a draft. We did not need 60-year-olds to oppose the war on the battlefront. The untold story of the
end of the Vietnam War… Well, you know about the mass movements in the United States, students and others, but on the battlefront, the soldiers were in full
rebellion against the war. So if you have a draft, you have a great opportunity to have a democratic refusal to war, and war is no longer a luxury. You can’t have any war anymore. At least, you can’t have that kind of war. And just to remind you, reintroducing the draft
to transform the present armed forces back into that popular mass for it’s capable of
coexisting successfully with an increasingly
representative government into a vehicle for mass democracy rather than the representative kind. And that leads me to my
final point, I suppose, and I already mentioned it. But you have to take it seriously. Representative government is not simply a limited form of democracy. It is an anti-democratic form. When you have a member of
the United States Congress who is a Republican in the newspaper, a week ago, complaining that he cannot represent his community when his community is 700,000 people, that is numbers, and in many cases, gerrymandered so that the weakest kind
of contiguous population is represented by that government. When you have billions
of dollars, literally, over time, being spent on electing people who are really not elected, when you have 50% of the
people who do not vote and do not vote because
they see no reason to vote, they may be the smartest among us. When you have a population that only sees its only possibility, and I think, here, I’m gonna take
one swipe at this piece. Who see direct action… Then you have a very different perspective on representative government. Representative government only under conditions of mass
uprising has any possibility of even becoming the
users of social change. But if you don’t have mass
uprising, representative government is almost
inevitably reactionary, and that reactionary does not
simply extend to the right. It extends to the left. The social democratic project,
as Fred says, is dead, and the communists who allowed themselves to fall into that social
democratic project in western Europe with one exception, two exceptions. Well, one and a half exceptions. I’ll put it another way. Greece, and Germany. Only a small exception. But the social democratic, the communists, are themselves gone, because
they allowed themselves to fall into the social
democratic project, which was you hold onto the liberal state, and you’ll make reform. The problem is, we don’t necessarily have to… You don’t necessarily
have to agree with this, but the evidence is pretty clear that the era of social reform
of the traditional kind is no longer possible. Given the political situation, it is even increasingly unpopular and not possible, partially
because of the kind of political system that has emerged in the United States and
elsewhere of a really one-sided, as unions like to say, class struggle. The councilists talked
about workers councils. I don’t think that’s good enough. I think that’s necessary
but not sufficient. I think what you need is at
the level of the community, at the level of schools,
at the level of virtually every institution as well
as every sphere of life, you need the passing of
control into the popular. Now, last word. I don’t think that the defeat in Wisconsin is so simple. I think it begins a process which was carried out with Occupy that you do not any longer have the option to take the electoral
process all that seriously. You have to confront
the electoral process. You have to confront the
organization of space as well as the organization
of social life in general by direct action. Now, that Occupy has refused to engage in political organization, and by which, I don’t mean electoral organization, I mean political organization, is a fatal weakness for that organization. But what I think has now
been put on the table in the United States and
to refuse to accept that or to recognize that is
to make a serious mistake, and that is popular
organizations of minorities, and I don’t mean racial minorities or gender minorities alone, but the popular organization of minorities is the way to begin to implement
a new democratic project, because majoritarianism is
essentially authoritarianism, under these circumstances that live now. I think… I wanna say one more thing
about that, and that’s it, which is that if we are in a new era, then we should expect defeats, but that the defeats may
not be the end of that era, but will be preliminary. I mean, I’m not gonna
be cavalier to suggest the 1905 and 1917 analogy. What I’m talking about,
the Russian Revolution, which failed in 1905
and succeeded in 1917, but that is a way of thinking that needs to pervade what
remains of an American as well as a global left, and that kind of thinking, I think, is beginning to take hold. And the one thing that
Fred has actually given us, and I think I’m grateful for it, is he’s given us the invocation that without a vision, without a proposal, for how to change or what to change to, without a discussion of what the implications
of those changes are, then what we’re fated to become is simply a vanishing breed of romantics and a vanishing breed of sentimentalists. Thank you. (audience applauds) What am I doing? The problem of… Is it late? (audience laughs) – Can we take some questions? 10 minutes, 10 minutes of questions. – I’m happy to do that. The only problem that we have… Is… (audience laughs) That some people are soft-spoken. I don’t happen to be soft-spoken. Oh, you do have mics? All right, where are the mics? Over here? All right. I will entertain questions, under this proviso: one, that you use the mic, and two, that if you have a question, it’s a question, and no
prolonged statements, like I’m a member of
the Sixth International and this is our position. Cut it out. So, questions. Go ahead. No?
All right. – [Audience Member] Can
cyberspace be a vehicle of dual power of resistance? – Well, I think, there was a
whole set of utopian fantasies crystallized around all
that, and certainly in these mass uprisings that I
touched on, it played a part. I mean, but I think that it would be more an auxiliary to other kinds of things. That is, it has a function of disclosing, revealing scandals, and
so on, and so forth. And calling people out, sure. So I think… But one would have to try to
imagine a more specific place for it in this scheme. I mean, the big question… I agree with Stanley on a lot of things. I think the council idea
is very interesting. It’s clear that this moves
towards a kind of federalized or decentralized system. Well, that’s the point at which something like cyberspace comes into
play, because that keeps, that keeps various local, seemingly local and isolated communities
in touch with each other. So to that degree, maybe this
is a new way of overcoming the kind of breakdown
that has always threatened the federal system. I think myself that, you
know, when people talk about the end of communism and so forth, it was a failure of federalism fully as much as communism. I mean, Gorbachev didn’t
understand the secessions that were about to happen
in the Soviet Union. So I think it would be a component of any kind of decentralization. – One small thing. You’re a mayor of Richmond, California, and you’ve been elected
on the Green Party ticket to be the mayor of Richmond, California. And so what you do, with the
support of a large number of people in Richmond,
California, an old, industrial oil town, an old, industrial town, is you actually reverse
the eminent domain doctrine which was used to drive
farmers off the land, and so now what you do is you
drive the real estate people out of the city. Now, that is not something that I made up. That is something that the
mayor of Richmond, California, announced, and then she backed off. We haven’t figured out
yet why she backed off and how she backed off. You can figure it out for yourself, but that is an example of a decentralized action. The problem is that none
of that gets disseminated widely enough so it can be imitated, improved on, discussed, and become a more
general kind of activity. Yeah. Oh, over there, and then there. Is that okay with you? Go ahead. – [Woman Offscreen] As you probably hear, I’m from former Soviet Union, so I was subjected both radical systems, radical socialism and radical communism, radical capitalism. And for 20 years, I already see the political circus here as I saw it in Soviet
Union, but in Soviet Union, the main problem was with distribution. It was on the way to
distribute all resources, people on the top distributed
it between the friends and the relatives, and then
to the bottom it was going. But if you talk about this problem, it’s only possible, this
distribution process is only possible by computer system. It’s not possible by… It could not be enforced by
any kinds of humans, even army, because on the way to the
bottom of the society… – Do you have a question? – Yes. My question is, what do you think is,
in the future utopia, will be it’s only possible, this distribution process,
only possible by computers and actually be on the way to it? – Well, you know, you talk
about corruption and so on. I think that would be
another use for the internet; that is, that’s a source of
the revelation of these things that in a lot of
countries, was kept secret. I mean, the East Germans
were stunned to find out that these people who ran them
had these villas and so on, that nobody really knew about, but that suggests something else here. And we’ve talked a lot about
the state as a problem. I mean, we’re not talking
about solving problems here. We’re talking about
producing problems, right? By way of the attempt to imagine a utopia. And one of those problems
clearly remains the state, as it always has been. The other one we haven’t mentioned. That’s money. When you’re talking about corruption, you’re talking about money. When you’re talking
about media and so forth, you’re talking about money. I mean, one of the things I think that, you know, Hegel had this
scandalous expression which I hope he didn’t
really mean literally. It was, “War is the health of nations.” I suppose he meant by that, patriotism and so on and so forth, but I think what he really meant is that war destroys capital. I think the post-war
situations, some of them, made things possible. In Britain, for example, Labor Britain, because so much capital had been, so much money had been destroyed. What’s happening to us now is that all this money has
accumulated in one place, and I think you know where that place is, and it makes any kind of
representative system, public media, and so forth,
really very difficult, if not to say impossible. So this kind of proposal
would have to be accompanied by, I don’t say redistribution of wealth. I would say destruction of wealth. It has to be accompanied by a general… How can I say… I don’t wanna say lowering
of living standards exactly, but it certainly has to be,
I think, the great merit of Occupy was to put this
at the center of the table where nobody was talking about it before, and it certainly is important for us. – Yeah. – [Man Offscreen] Thank you. – Why don’t you raise the microphone. – [Man Offscreen] Sure. (audience laughs) A little bit easier. Stanley, you said in your
speech in Columbia… – You gotta speak louder. – [Man Offscreen] Stanley,
you said in your speech at Columbia that you called
for the abolition of the draft. – No, no, you called… He called for the reinstatement. – [Man Offscreen] That’s
what I was wondering, if you misspoke. – I called for the
reinstatement of the draft. – [Man Offscreen] That’s what I thought, because volunteer service
would be, I think, in your opinion, would be
a step towards fascism, it would ensure fascism. Is that correct? – Yeah. – [Man Offscreen] Yeah, thanks. I just wanted to make sure
if you misspoke or not. – Oh, no. It become the most… It became the foundation of the democratic struggle
against the war in Vietnam, against the southeast Asia war, was the fact that there was a draft, and Richard Nixon, who was no dope, decided, how do you get
rid of the movement? You get rid of the movement
by eliminating the draft and have everybody bully Aronowitz. No, but I mean, that kind
of thing happened all over. Yes. One more question, right? Two more questions, okay. – [Rachel] Hi, I’m Rachel. I was wondering if you
could say more about how we get from where we are
now to your imagined future. So, what is the mechanism, and how might the mechanism
or the process shape the ultimate outcome
of the future political organizations that you’re thinking about? – That’s a good question. – Well, I don’t know exactly
what the legalities are, but it seems to me that
among the President’s powers would be to reinstitute the
draft, as an executive action, and that could be extended
and so on, and so forth. I mean, you’re asking for
practical implementation. That’s one way of imagining it. The other way is what
Stanley has talked about, in terms of popular
organization and so forth. But there’s an answer,
some kind of answer. – We are in a stage, I mean, if it is a stage. Let’s stipulate that possibility. We are in a moment, anyway, when the basic issue is not how to get from here
to there in the abstract. The basic issue is where are
we going to find the cadre? Where are we going to find the activists who are going to not
only fight for the draft, as one example, or fight for
a $15 an hour minimum wage. We know how to do that. I’m not saying we’re successful yet, but a group of people of
several hundred thousand, not a large group, to start with, who actually will dedicate themselves to the elaboration of
a new way of thinking about society, and not the way, not that we don’t learn from
Marx or learn from Lenin or learn from Aristotle or
learn from anybody else, but that there are new problems. And just one of the
problems that Fred raises, which has to be raised, is the framework of
industrialization dead, or has it been transferred to virtually every aspect
of work and of social life? That is to say, can we think
through the issue of hierarchy? Can we think through
the issue of authority, in every aspect of our lives? Now, when people don’t do any of that, and not just think through,
but think about how you’re going to address that in practical terms, then what they ask for is for the state and its representative government to confer upon us its benefits. I get, every day, no, no,
I get three times a day, a request for me to sign a petition to Obama, to this one, to that one, and the truth of the matter is that every now and then, if the petition is sufficiently
local, I’ll sign it. If it says, de Blasio, get the god damn
pre-kindergarten program going, I’ll sign that. I won’t sign a single petition to Obama. It’s worthless, and it’s really not
going to change anything. – Let me add another little more serious bit
to my answer to you. It is not a happy one, I think, that this kind of transformation
that we’re talking about, and that I was talking about, this utopian army and so forth, that only happens in emergencies. Now, I deliberately, this scheme of mine was predicated on excluding
foreign policy and war. So that’s a first, that’s a first limit. But it seems to me, it’s
only in a national emergency, and for us, I think that means ecology, that you can do something
like this, you draft everybody and they have to help
out in that situation. And those things are probably coming, so it’s not maybe quite so
imaginary, to fantasize that. But that’s the moment in
which one can effectuate that kind of transformation, I think. – You’ve got the final question. – [Man Offscreen] Okay, thanks. I think what I find maybe disappointing about
this exercise so far, maybe more in what Stanley was saying, is that when we think
of, when we try to think in a utopian register, some
kind of total transformation, but we continue to talk about the completely transformed situation in terms of the same kind
of economic rationality that we’re in thrall
of, or that we’re using. In other words, how are we gonna… Okay, we’ve got this utopia. Now, how are we gonna
distribute the scarce resources on a global scale again? Okay, let’s decentralize or
let’s use computer networks to achieve that. We’ve in no way escaped the
kind of economic rationality or even a global market that we’re in. So in other words, my
question is, why is it that, even when we try as hard
as you’ve both tried to think of a way of exiting this world, broadly speaking, why can’t we escape from this
kind of economic rationality, especially since we’ve recognized, you’ve both recognized and
we here have all recognized to varying degrees that what this kind of
economic rationality has been doing to this
world and to this planet has brought it not to
the brink of apocalypse but well into the midst of a
slowly-unfolding apocalypse that we’re living through right now? – I thought we had eliminated the banks and the big corporations and so forth, and destroyed some of the money supply. I recommend, as these are just suggestions, I recommend two other
books I didn’t mention: Ernest Callenbach’s great book Ecotopia, which has just been republished, and an even more forgotten
book by an East German, Rudolf Bahro, B-A-H-R-O,
called The Alternative, which has to make some similar proposals for the former socialist system. I mean, those are maybe
more practical beginnings than not, but Callenbach shows that you can have a lot of dynamism and innovation and all the rest of it in a system that doesn’t
depend on big business. – Just one little comment. Imagine what kind of a
society and what kind of life, social life, we would have,
if we took up a simple demand of somebody called Karl Marx in the 1850s that the purpose of the movement that he was hoping to ignite, its primary purpose, was the
abolition of the wage system, which would entail the abolition of money. Now, one of the things that, one of the reasons that
Aristotle and, you know, a certain number of people,
especially, you know, Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx, and a few others, we still read them, is not
only because their analysis is good, but because they
challenge the foundation of the systems within which they lived. We can’t regard market as religion. It is only a religion, and we’ve got to begin to think, how would we organize
social and economic life outside of the market, and how do we begin to think about what
constitutes a good life? I’ve just finished a book which is going to be published in the fall about this forgotten organization
called the Labor Movement. And what I argue in that book
is that one of the reasons that we’ve seen the precipitous decline of the US labor movement
and the slower decline of the European labor movement but both of them are surely declining, Europe we like to hold up because we’re in such terrible shape here, is because they lost the grasp of what it means to offer a good life to masses of people. They no longer speak that way. They no longer have the language. They no longer have the ideas. They no longer have the
educational project, and it reminds me, because what was true
about Plato and Aristotle and Marx and Hegel and so on
is that they always insisted on the problem of not only
the process by which we get from this life to the good life, but what the good life might consist in. And we might not like
Hegel’s republic ’cause it, you know, the Marxist
analysis of Hegel’s republic, I mean, Plato’s Republic, it says Plato was simply justifying the
system within which he lived. I don’t agree with that, by the way. But, he actually becomes
powerful to the extent that he suggests what it would be like to have a system of
democracy or hierarchy, and he has both of them
going on at the same time. We don’t talk that way anymore. That’s what’s so strong
about Fred’s paper. He’s talking that way. And that’s what we have to do more of. (all applaud)

20 thoughts on “An American Utopia: Fredric Jameson in Conversation with Stanley Aronowitz

  1. c'mon ye guys, t'is good conversation

  2. To be here listening to Frederic Jameson speak is almost unbelievable for a twinkly eyed undergrad, and despite the temporal, spacial and digital removal it makes being alive right now feel like an honour.

  3. Heard "renationalization of the army" and had a flash of what Trump's deportation force will look like. Probably just post-election ptsd.

  4. Hey you pricks, this is all Bullshit, I do this only to make money, it is all Bullshit. I write a bunch of shit and people pay for it, I am ripping your asses off, because you are all dumb fucks..

  5. This is a great audience. They strike a perfect balance between comedic response to Prof. Jameson's subtle jokes and serious attention to his rallying cry.

  6. The video game is the next institutions of social change. But, that change will be dystopia. Half employed zombies will be resting on sofas lined up in basements all over the midwest, languishing in their googles, dominating some level of some video game, content with the 'time pass', neutered from revolutionary zeal.

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