felix guattari

Fascism, like desire, is scattered everywhere, in separate bits and pieces, within the whole social realm; it crystallizes in one place or another, depending on the relationships of force. It can be said of fascism that it is all-powerful and, at the same time, ridiculously weak. And whether it is the former or the latter depends on the capacity of collective arrangements, subject-groups, to connect the social libido, on every level, with the whole range of revolutionary machines of desire.
—  Felix Guattari, “Everybody Wants to be a Fascist”,  Semiotexte, Volume II, Number 3, 1977.
The various forms of education or ‘normalization’ imposed upon an individual consist in making him or her change points of subjectification, always moving towards a higher, nobler one in closer conformity with the supposed ideal. Then from the point of subjectification issues a subject of enunciation, as a function of a mental reality determined by that point. Then from the subject of enunciation issues a subject of the statement, in other words, a subject bound to statements in conformity with a dominant reality.
—  Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari - A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
The New Communism?

Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis presents, the better part of a decade on, a particular moment in the left’s history as part of presenting a larger concept of a postmodern Maoism, one that Badiou specifically elaborates upon as a French tendency (with the obvious colonial implications left for the reader in large part) but moreover locates within a transhistorical concept of revolutionary progress that has a phenomenal relevance at this moment in time. Badiou was writing at a point where he was looking back at 40 years of May ‘68; approaching quickly the 50th year, one wonders at once whether Badiou was writing for a voracious audience that would buy copies before letting them collect dust, or was in fact elaborating upon a tendency within the neoliberal apparatus that has become even more apparent following the publication of Hypothesis. Additionally, the manner in which he evokes the Commune, as well as the act of its evocation, is rather important in both analyzing the text itself and applying Badiou’s critique to leftist organizing.

Badiou beginning with a discussion of May ‘68 being celebrated in 2008 is specifically about the reterritorializing concept of neoliberal reform, in that the celebration has become part of the very structure of neoliberal spectacle, the former radicals of May ‘68 have either died or eventually joined the comfortable ranks of neoliberal government, and the potential rupture presented has become part of history much in the way that American conceptualization of the 1960s has become part of a teleological shift in the West, one not unlike the American conceptualization of the Enlightenment, of the American and French revolutions, and of the following Industrial Revolution’s implications. Just as American neoliberalism stretches back in accounts of Civil Rights, anti-war protests, Gay Liberation, and other hollowed-out bodies of radical movements, costumes for legislators to don in humorous evocation, Badiou describes how the French concept of May ‘68 has seen the completion of its bourgeoisie reclamation, reterritorialized as a singular rupture that can only be remembered, as it will never present itself again. Traces, small performances, a theatre of little ‘68s can appear, but their effect will neatly ease into neoliberal reform just as May ‘68 did. 

However, in the years since Badiou wrote The Communist Hypothesis the globalizing violence of neoliberalism has only grown more skeletonized, the body decaying into a hyperreal state of the undead. Neoliberalism struggles greatly to contain its fascist libidinal investments, and the strength of reactionary ideology on a global scale is rather apparent. That a great deal of Badiou’s text lies in describing the movements of reactionary ideology, even if specifically within discourses of Maoism, presents a manner in which to consider the conflicting structures that reactionary violence attaches itself to, the contingency of reactionary ideology as well as how it becomes present within revolutionary groups. Conversely, the manner in which neoliberalism is allowing the outward violence of fascism to coalesce has seen a resurgence in outright leftist resistance: the revival of the American Black Bloc to a degree not seen since the late Clinton and early Bush administrations is itself a reassuring sign of the potentiality of radical discourses even within neoliberal bodies. 

Deleuze and Guattari, in discussing the body of the state, talk about the structuring of fascist bodies (the sort of fascist undead I discussed prior) out of capitalist flows of desire, the manner in which a specific codification of capital within the capitalist expanse constitutes the realization of fascism. They compare it to the despotism present in socialism when capitalist relations are retained, the body of the state serving only superficially as an alternative to any kind of capitalist organization. Even when not named, their clearest target is Stalinism as a form of governance. While an ideological tendency of “Stalinism” is rather hard to describe given that Stalin’s writings are largely characterized by specific applications of Leninism with few advancements of his own, the manner in which Badiou talks about a Maoist conception of Stalinism provides an articulation through which one can begin a sort of Maoist deconstruction of the very concept of socialism. 

Mao, as described by Badiou, discusses frequently the manner in which the bourgeoisie is part of communism, how within the peasants, the urban proletariat, and the Party itself the bourgeoisie will attempt to use the Party to retain their old lifestyles, a problem it describes as symptomatic of Stalinism. The manner in which this critique resembles Deleuze and Guattari is in part due to Badiou’s affinity with Deleuze, but additionally it results from a primary theoretical holding of Maoism as a tendency when described by Badiou. Mao’s framework for organization of the Party involved a great deal of practice of Self-Criticism, which one can begin to transform into a sort of libidinal flow toward deconstructive critique of the texts that prescribe certain actions in the name of building Communism. For Mao, in every action there is a Communist quality, there is no externality to the text of the revolution insofar as one can realize a revolutionary manner of completing any task. Furthermore, Badiou discusses the manner in which the Science of Marxism-Leninism preempts the science of the Enlightenment: the original claim that it is better to be red than an expert, or at least red first and then an expert, is a specific epistemic claim in addition to being a slogan for revolutionary commitment. 

The empiricism of Deleuzean accounts is a specific one in that it relies on a sort of transcendent aspect to that empiricism, a structuring of the empirical encounter that defies a great deal of one might hold as traditional empiricist claims. The prioritization of an “objective” frame of reference is at the base of neoliberal epistemology, one that subsumes postmodern critique of epistemic holdings with a certain relativism that does little to change any actual epistemic claims, merely applying a sort of culturally relative ethical framework when convenient for neoliberal expansion. Aestheticized as a singular reality with multiple domains, rather than the more meaningful hyperreality that neoliberal globalization creates, the science of neoliberal domination lies in its ability to subsume critique, to continually withdraw its influence at the moment of encounter while maintaining an always-already stable aesthetic epistemé

The quality of being-red and becoming-red, becoming-revolutionary, in an expert is different from the becoming-expert of the red, and that the latter implies a fundamental quality to the process of becoming, a molecularity of commitment to revolutionary causes, is itself indicative of the realization that prioritization of the becoming-expert can allow the revolutionary structure of this process fail at critical moments, creating an expert given to reactionary tendencies as much as revolutionary ones. The Body without Organs that the expert possesses is far different from that of the radical, revolutionary subject necessary for a specifically radical epistemology and the becoming-revolutionary seen in this process is contingent in a fashion that can strengthen the neoliberal rather easily.

Badiou points out, occasionally in a vulgar fashion, but correctly, that the current structure of government in China has been largely structured by the bourgeoisie within the Party that Mao spoke directly of. The aesthetic body of the Chinese state is socialist, but Badiou describes this as a turn that solidifies the State rather than changing its fundamental nature, in a manner similar to the Oedipal body of the state described by Deleuze and Guattari. Without a continual revolutionary investment, it has instead tended toward neoliberal codification. 

When Badiou describes the Cultural Revolution, he does so in a manner that acknowledges both its violence, and the uneven direction of that violent investment, an outpouring of revolutionary and reactionary libidinal desires across bodies in an often arbitrary fashion, where the principles of Mao’s own words were claimed by all but followed by few. The process of Self-Criticism as vital to Maoist practice provides a phenomenal opportunity for resolving contradiction, an encounter that one can liken to the radical solidarity advocated for by Laclau in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy and critiqued by Badiou’s friend Žižek in Contingency Hegemony Universality. The process in question, which Mao has described as specifically for the resolution of contradiction within the people, is more than anything an act, just as the act of deconstruction is in tracing the lines of flight through the text, the flows of investment it generates, in an act of reading rather than a certain conclusion. Derrida says that the original relationships of an opposition are retained in its reversal, and Žižek’s own reactionary turns show this well enough. The contradictions of Mao are, according to Badiou, Hegelian in an important way and moreover indicative of a strong dialectical framework, one that I find great opportunity to build upon in acts of fostering communal discourse. 

Obviously, many will hesitate to adopt the label of Maoist. I myself worry it will betray the Deleuzean image I have tried to generate, that my decadent postmodernism will be brushed off as posturing or that the concept of a Maoist Metaphysics will be rejected as itself contradictory. However, in interpreting the readings of Mao performed by Badiou, a certain postmodern quality to the act of studying Maoist history becomes clear. That so much of the history of Mao has been relayed through neoliberal accounts means that it contains a certain redoubling of neoliberal libidinal investment: every death is condemned in the language and celebrated in the critique offered by the historiography that shapes neoliberal justifications for globalizing hegemony. The very operation by which history becomes intelligible is here rather visibly undergoing a transformative turn that allows even for dramatic antagonism within a neoliberal relationship between states. Thus, going back and attempting to understand an alternative Maoism to the one of neoliberalism can be accomplished rather well through a postmodern historicity, a sort of acknowledgement of capitalist hyperreality and a move toward interacting with the textuality of this hyperreal.

What, then, does this mean for action? It certainly means that critiquing one another along with ourselves is worthwhile practice, but this is the most basic of concepts that one would take from such an extrapolation. The process by which Marx, Mao, France, and many others evoke the Commune is part of the revolutionary ideological turn that recognizes what Badiou describes as a unique turn of the Commune: that the restructuring of the state post-revolution should in fact reflect the politics of those by whom the revolution was driven. Reactionary forces taking advantage of revolutionary upheaval is hardly new, but the importance of creating a whole-cloth theory of revolutionary change, one that includes justification, encountering reactionary opposition, challenging and overcoming that opposition, and further opportunity for growth is the most basic challenge for revolutionary theory, but at the same time its most difficult one. 

Badiou’s elaboration upon the notion that in everything one can refer to Mao’s writing is itself an evocation of the way in which revolutionary theory must shape revolutionary movements, that commonality and solidarity must not be allowed to be reterritorialized by reactionary elements as knots of rhizomality in an arborescent movement, those knots requiring reactionary violence. Instead, the manner in which arboreality is present in rhizomally structured movements, the sort of acknowledgement of cultural change (whatever that may mean) that drove Maoist flows of desire throughout the Cultural Revolution must become part of a process of reinvigoration, of specifically avoiding the reactionary breaks that destroy a movement. 

The realization of a singularly Maoist movement is highly unlikely, despite the strength of Maoist movements in India and the Philippines, and the increasing popularity of Maoisms like Badiou’s. Neoliberalism is adept at dealing with these movements, as recent discussion of the Philippines in The Economist has shown. And moreover, the manner in which reactionary concepts of Communism have been read upon the reactionary expansion of a Russian state well removed from any Communist aspirations is indicative that there is a rather long way to go for any sort of red movement that aspires to meaningfully match May ‘68. However, that the process of cultural transformation Mao lays out in his theory involves a strongly Hegelian turn, a specifically Marxist impetus, one suited to the revived post-Marxisms of poststructuralism, postcolonialism, and deconstruction as a methodology allows for a specific realization of these in a manner that can meaningfully recognize affinity with anarchists, with disaffected workers, with neoliberal subjects and their revolutionary potential. This is the most important and resonant manner in which to utilize the claims present in The Communist Hypothesis, and the ones I find to be most in line with Badiou’s overall engagement with Communism as an Idea.

if the writer is in the margins or completely outside his or her fragile community, this situation allows the writer all the more the possibility to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility
—  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka; Toward a Minor Literature (17)
Go always further in the direction of deterritorialization, to the point of sobriety. Since the language is arid, make it vibrate with a new intensity. Oppose a purely intensive usage of language to all symbolic or even significant or simply signifying usages of it. Arrive at a perfect and unformed expression, a materially intense expression.
—  Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, 19
The Worker, The Quarterback

Largely, when leftists discuss sports, it is in providing an example of affinity groups around capitalist intensities: the city, the state, the stadium, and the sport above them all. Teams such as the Packers and Steelers harken back to a certain working-class life, and in fact the symbolically public ownership of the Packers presents a model through which socialized sport can eventually be realized. Conversely, reactionary names such as the Patriots, or the use of a racial slur by Washington’s team, shows the way in which filiation around reactionary culture is not terribly uncommon and must be considered if one is putting credence into Laclau’s notions of Radical Democracy, or into Maoist notions of organizing backwaters, the postmodern peasant classes, not uncultured but rather subcultural, metacultural. However, another line of critique may be made around the concept of sport and the particularities of leagues such as the NFL. The figuration of a subjectivized celebrity off of the field through their action on it is indeed an operation of capital that is similar to the way in which it treats actors, singers, artists.

Indeed, just as the three latter groups often retain some liberal trappings of radical consciousness in late stages of their career, there is indeed some radical consciousness among athletes at certain moments. Colin Kaepernick is a phenomenal example of this, as well as many of the players who joined in protest with him. Marshawn Lynch demonstrated a radical process of silence when refusing media attention in the face of mandatory media engagement, specifically adhering in an ironic fashion to rules on press conferences by offering a non-answer whenever asked a question. And a recognition of the specifically fascist character of American governance at this moment can be glimpsed in the decision of Patriots players to defer on the usual White House visit, and do so publicly.

But this is not the primary place in which a leftist critique of sports lies. Massumi provides an interest grounds on which to describe the intensities of sport, but these are about the sport itself, toward an aesthetic-topological account of sports as extending from the body that harkens to more basic questions about sport. These questions will become useful in exploring sport in a radical context, but first I must establish another line of critique. The way in which Marxist concepts of labor are in fact rather plainly articulated by sport, often on the parts of athletes and owners themselves, is part of what makes them such a fertile avenue for critique. Moreover, the particular labor involved in football as a sport involves a deployment of the body that deals with intensities of labor far more directly than almost any other profession, leading to the way in which one considers it compensated to become eminently problematic.

To establish a basic critique, one must conceive of players as workers. There are bosses, managers, Mao’s well-to-do-peasants within the ranks of the league, most often found at the position of Starting Quarterback. Tom Brady is the preeminent example, others being Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and to a certain degree even Cam Newton (although the considerations one must make to deal with the implicit, or often explicit, antiblackness in critique of Newton’s play and personae is another issue entirely). The figuration of Tom Brady, particularly, becomes interesting when one remembers his status as a backup for the Patriots, behind Drew Bledsoe, a skilled quarterback in his own right. Bledsoe went down with an injury late in the season, Brady took over and won his first game in relief. He started the next week and lost, but was given another chance. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Bledsoe soon fell by the wayside as Brady, coached by Belichick, went on to become one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history. Tom Brady is, in short, the dream. And his supposed apoliticism, while on a team called the Patriots, is distinctly humorous while stunningly unfunny: after displaying a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker before Trump was even a frontrunner within the GOP, later questioning about the now-President was answered by a bewildered Brady who did not understand why a friendship was of interest to the media. In the days following Trump’s reactionary restrictions on immigration and travel, Brady was asked about “recent events” at a Media Availability conference and responded by saying that he had not been paying attention to “recent events” and that he was merely a “positive person” with the implication being that he would prefer to avoid potential distraction in engaging with unhappy news.

Tom Brady is a perfect subject for the NFL. For our consideration he is far less perfect, but still part of a useful line of critique. Brady’s success is impossible without the team surrounding him, both in an aesthetic and in a literal sense. The producing of a productive offense relies on having a strategy that can adapt to different defensive weaknesses while avoiding the opposing team’s strengths. Atlanta had one of the best defenses during the regular season as well as the playoffs, but in the second half of Super Bowl LI, they were decimated. Touchdown Tom was, on any given play, in a state of crisis. The Patriots, in playing from so far behind, were given free reign to take strategies of desperation, of causing dramatic ruptures, and were able to do so for an entire half of a football game. The Patriots were playing Deleuzean football usually reserved for the last 5 minutes of a game for a full 30. And it worked, the whitest team in the NFL completing an unprecedented comeback to win the Super Bowl. While Brady’s play was unmistakably vital to structuring that comeback, it involved linesmen, cornerbacks, linebackers, running backs. Players who risk far more in the conflict of intensities that constitute any given play, for far less than Brady.

At a vital level, football follows Massumi’s reading of Deleuzean concepts of intensity onto the body, in a fashion far more direct than that seen in the soccer that Massumi describes within Parables for the Virtual. While concussions are relatively rare, football would not produce such dramatic brain damage if they were more common. Rather, the meeting of intensities at the line during play, the blocking and evading that constitutes the game itself, produces brain damage through lower levels of trauma sustained and repeated over a course of years and years. Even a short stay in the NFL requires of most players a long course of preparation that begins in High School, and continues through the NCAA. The NCAA’s exploitation is racialized, is comprehensive, and lies beyond the scope of a discussion on labor in the NFL, in that it in fact follows so many of the same norms but in fact is even more directly exploitative. A great deal of the NCAA’s justification comes from the promise of a career in the NFL, or in coaching, or in some way connected to the sport. To return to the point at hand, most positions in football require triangulating the body in a certain Oedipal relationship between the coach, the team, and oneself, such that it reflects the larger capitalist organization of the workplace rather directly.

Football asks of its players that they subject themselves to traumatic injuries not as an accident or as ancillary to their occupation, but rather as the main characterizing factor within their labor. Football players are at risk of injury in a manner far different than other workers, in that it is not whether injury is included in their job, but how often and to what degree. Season-ending and even career-ending injuries are incredibly common, even celebrated when they lead to the discovery of a player such as Brady. Conversely, the pay that many players get is enormous, into the ranges of multiple millions of dollars. A sort of Faustian bargain occurs between the players and their teams, a slow sacrifice of the body and the way in which that body can be considered human, rather than as a prosthetic extension of the coach’s body, a transformation into Oedipal subjects upon the field.

The labor in question, a hallowed game that is more clearly becoming constituted by traumatic injury upon a Body without Organs on the gridiron, is well-compensated, but the question of if such labor can be tolerated is at its base the question facing the NFL as well as its fans. Can a sport that so deeply involves trauma to a fully realized body be continued? The way in which this particular sort of labor involves articulations of, striations upon, the Body without Organs entirely constituted by injury and decay compared with the structure of compensation provides dramatic relief within the consideration of players as laborers, as workers. The sort of naturalized concept of worker that is employed by many tendencies of Marxism, rather than the shifting concept of worker influenced by postmodern vocabulary creeping into Marxism-Leninism, or the considered, differentiated, and particular worker-peasant-intellectual-so-on of Maoism, is both called into question and able to be examined in relief through the NFL and its larger cultural presence. Considering the possibility of a worker-quarterback, a radical critique of an often reactionary cultural structure, is an exercise with allows a great deal of freedom and examination of the definitions employed by one’s critique of labor, its artifice, and its significance.

minor literature is not the literature of a minor language but the literature a minority makes in a major language. But the primary characteristic of a minor literature involves all the ways in which the language is effected by a strong co-efficient of deterritorialization.
—  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka; Toward a Minor Literature (16)
The painter does not paint on an empty canvas, and neither does the writer write on a blank page; but the page or canvas is already so covered with preexisting, preestablished clichés that it is necessary to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos that brings us the vision.
—  Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?
The truth is that sexuality is everywhere: in the way that a bureaucrat fondles his records, a judge administers justice, a businessman causes money to circulate; in the way the bourgeoisie fucks the proletariat; and so on. And there is no need to resort to metaphors, any more than for the libido to go by way of metamorphoses. Hitler got the fascists sexually aroused. Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused.

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus 

(translation slightly altered by Alan D. Schrift for quotation in Nietzsche’s French Legacy: A Genealogy of Poststructuralism)

What does it mean to love somebody? It is always to seize that person in a mass, extract him or her from a group, however small, in which he or she participates, whether it be through the family only or through something else; then to find that person’s own packs, the multiplicities he or she encloses within himself or herself which may be of an entirely different nature.
—  Gilles Deleuze. Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia
[In capitalism] the family becomes the subaggregate to which the whole of the social field is applied. Since each person has his own private father and mother, it is a distributive subaggregate that simulates for each person the collective whole of social persons and that closes off his domain and scrambles his images. Everything is reduced to the father-mother-child triangle, which reverberates the answer ‘daddy-mommy’ every time it is stimulated by the images of capital. In short, Oedipus arrives: it is born in the capitalist system of the application of first-order social images to the private familial images of the social order. It is the aggregate of destination that corresponds to an aggregate of departure that is socially determined. It is our intimate colonial formation that corresponds to the form of social sovereignty. We are all little colonies and it is Oedipus that colonizes us.
—  Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Becoming is certainly not imitating, or identifying with something; neither is it regressing-progressing; neither is it corresponding, establishing corresponding relationships; neither is is producing, producing a filiation or producing through filiation. Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own; it does not reduce to, or lead back to, “appearing,” “being,” “equaling,” or “producing.”
—  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, from “1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible”
This is the new politics: the need to recharacterize the fundamental struggles in terms of a continuous conquest of (new) arenas of freedom, democracy, and creativity. And, whatever the militants and the individuals who have “given up on all that” may say, there is nothing anachronistic or retrograde or anarchist in this way of conceiving things; indeed, it attempts to understand contemporary social transformations–including their contradictions–on the basis of the productive activities, the desires, and the real needs that regulate them. What is entirely irrational and mad is the power of the State as it has evolved since the 1960s.
—  Félix Guattari & Antonio Negri, Communists Like Us