I was able to attend a talk given by Chris Chen of Endnotes, a Marxist collective of writers sorting out the problems of a post 1968 anti-Capitalist resistance. Their collective focus is on ‘communization’ and emphasizes the communal aspects of contemporary life that help bring about the revolution vs. projecting visions of future social formations after that great big event. I was a little surprised to hear Chen immediately mention Mark Fisher’s recent piece Exiting the Vampire’s Castle when he began. It seems this has been the talk of the (leftist) town. I wrote my own scattered response in Dodging Vampires, and this talk gave me an opportunity to further my inquiry into leftist discourse, identity politics, and neo-anarchism (so defined by Fisher).
As it turns out, there has been quite an uproar over Exiting the Vampires’ Castle. Much has been blogged, debated, and spoken about the issue of class and identity, but little has been settled. Fisher rues the resentment plaguing ‘the left’ and wants a re-unification around class post-identity politics. Other writers have criticized Fisher for conflating class with identity and merely pushing back against feminist and race theories without offering anything substantial (by way of critiquing capitalism) of his own. There is quite a bit more nuance to this debate; the cracks in this recent episode reach across a broad swath of anti-capitalist organizing and other (non)activism. Here is a good rebuttal and aggregate of others from across the web by Andrea Mitropoulos: B-grade Politics.
Finding a resolved position on this matter seems of the utmost importance at this moment when so much is at stake and yet so many black holes to fall into. Positioning is perhaps not the best wording here: the problem could be incorrectly and disadvantageously proposed, meaning effectively dealing with the problem would be more a question of tact instead of posturing. It is incredibly important to not allow for an unnecessarily divisive presentation force people to choose sides for and against – we should not fall into being pro- or anti-Fisher. Moreover, the urgency and worry that the task brings with it (how pervasive US spying has become, the collapse of the ecosystems, etc.) can inflict a paranoia that seems to demand a quick response. The cause of our fractured or vicious interactions with each other cannot be so clearly pinned on identitarians, the internet, or “brocialists” from the outset (even though that’s the best neologism I’ve seen lately). Avoiding taking up the effort of blaming and the affect of spite carried along with it is a positive takeaway from the Fisher piece, but it was unnecessarily divisive. He intended it to be so, as he admitted right at the beginning of this DietSoap Podcast: The Joy Beyond Identity.
While I hear Fisher’s reaction (and it does come off as reactive) to the tone of discourse on social media (twitter is apparently the big community of leftist intellectualizing) loud and clear, I’ve decided that he is mostly lashing out in the wrong direction and from a confused position. The notion of class that he is trying to resuscitate is one that he is positioning against other categories neatly tied together under the banner of ‘identity politics’. Exhausted and deflated by the anger and spite coming from twitter, Fisher rounds up all of the bad conscience and resántimént, labels them Vampires, and places them in a Castle: a place which is also a “libidinal-discursive formation”. An excellent critique of his use of the libidinal-discursive comes from Arran James: Damn These Vampires. Namely, Fisher doesn’t answer where the Vampires’ Castle is and if you follow his line of reasoning, Fisher himself belongs there too (but where?). I don’t see how Fisher has helped solve the problem of moral identitarianism by calling a group of people out, when this lashing out is precisely what he wants to stop. Going along with Fisher, the moral resentment moves into an already hurting theatre of radical politics, but he brings himself along with it by targeting others and offering nothing proactive.
Chris Chen’s article is on Race and Class in a revolutionary political context and hooks up with Fisher’s piece in both agreement and disagreement [The Limit Points of Capitalist Equality: Towards an Abolitionist Antiracism]. However, it does so in a particular way that I do not follow: both maintain an attachment to a left tradition that is Class-based. Chen acknowledged in his talk that Fisher’s piece is behind the times and doesn’t understand the various ways that gender, race, and privilege carve out and fix us into social people, their individuating process that account for a great deal of what makes us who we are. The abstraction of “Race” (he uses the quotes throughout the essay to denaturalize it) is one that is only made necessary in capitalist societies and a project of class-based emancipation would be mutually beneficial for both the overtly anti-capitalists and the racial justice proponents alike. The abolition of race by (re)integration into a class force is seductive, but is this not another version of Fisher’s aging wish for an accelerating, high-tech infused class party that would topple the capitalist state and bring about socialism? This is still an open question for me.
The big takeaway from Chen is that the category “Race” would be abolished if the reintroduction of class (the working class I presume) into the political equation gained enough traction to beat back the Capitalists. I wonder if this move truly forward looking itself, or just another reintroduction of old categories in order to gain more subjects: to reinvigorate the proletariat.
Endnotes tries not to present categories or provide escape routes from the entanglements resulting from the activity of theorizing from radical left. They emphasis limits to received categories and highlight contradictions which point to something else (an outside if you will) that itself remains unnamed. They write from a decidedly Marxist perspective but forgo the futurist positing of a resolution or synthesis. The agents of change or the revolutionary subject are supposedly determined not a priori but in the context of the struggle itself. The intertwining of theory and praxis and the limitations of textual exercises are well understood, meaning they will not provide an answer to the questions of movement building or a light at the end of the tunnel; the way forward comes from participant already engaged in the act and not from the outside. They bring us to the limits with critique and analysis of contradictions, but at least attempt to leave the break through to the other side up to the actors (not the theorizers/writers).
Here is a critique of Endnotes I was shown by @FutureOnFire [Endnotes: A Romantic Critique? ]. Sometime in the coming weeks I will try to take a close look at Endnotes #3 and understand what the project of Communization provides for us as analysis, keeping in mind the context of the current problems surrounding identity and class in the greater anti-capitalist movement.