(a critique of Bartlebyism)
[We offer up to our comrades the following critique of the nihilist turn in communist and anarchist thought, in part because we find some of its appeal mystifying and some of its appeal understandable. We hope that at very least it will provoke some conversation among friends and comrades sympathetic to this line of thought.]
After the jailings and beatings and trials; after the last-ditch efforts you knew wouldn’t work, the surprising turn-of-events you thought just might, the labored attempts to force the situation; after the too-many meetings, the too-little sleep, the what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here; after the list of former friends has grown longer, after deciding there must be a snitch, after all the terrible things have been said and regretted and then said again and not regretted; after afraid, sad, tired, and after admitting, finally, sooner than some and later than others, that you failed, that it was over, that they won and that you can’t just call it a day, give up, go home, because when they win, they don’t just go home and feel happy and count their money and their votes and their weapons, they fuck your life up bad, they fuck up the people you love, they put them in jail or on probation, they take your money, they raise your rent, they wreck the place where you live, they kill and kill and keep on killing—after all this, it’s natural to feel pretty depressed; it’s natural to feel that everything you did was just stupid, that you were a fool, that you must have done something wrong or, better, that someone else must have done something wrong, even though you’re up against an enemy who is stronger than you, and even though the history of every struggle ever is a concordance of failures, and even though no one has ever figured out how to succeed against such an enemy in any kind of consistent and repeatable manner. It’s easier if there’s someone to blame. It’s easier if there was some mistake. If there was a mistake, then there was hope; if there was a mistake, then one can remain melancholically attached to the grim specter of what might have been…
The world is depressing enough as it is, of course. For many of us, it’s the return to normality, the prospect of another year of the grinding everyday, that makes the end of a political sequence unbearable. Through the experience of defeat we realize that the quotidian is constituted by defeat; the normal functioning of capitalism is continuous counter-revolution. Depression and anxiety are forms through which this victory is secured, through which people are rendered compliant, isolated, but only when these moods are modulated by brief moments of hopefulness, relief, imagination, ambition. What capitalism wants is a continuous, low-level unhappiness. They want people engaged in a continuous process of emotional management – with images, with work, with sex, with commodities. Anything more extreme makes people unpredictable, and it’s no surprise that communities that define themselves in opposition to the status quo are filled with the most wounded and miserable types. Once such feelings get politicized, once their political origins are disclosed, all sorts of problems result. Because these affects are the one thing that people in such communities are guaranteed to share, they tend to be valorized as a mark of authenticity; they become markers of an identity, something to hold onto, burnish, aestheticize, worship. Our feelings become not the motivation for our politics, not their energy source, but their object. The result is miserabilism, a community formed by a shared unhappiness, whose reproduction secretly depends upon the continuous provision of more sources of unhappiness.
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