B-grade politics

and reaction

At the centre of Mark Fisher’s piece (“Exiting the Vampire Castle”) is a proposition that has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with his very specific desires, or more specifically, an enjoyment he regards as having been thwarted by others. By ‘logic,’ I mean that the reasons given—a critique of essentialism, identitarianism—do not lead to the conclusions he offers, since the entire article is directed to reinstating both an essentialist and identitarian understanding of class. That is, it does not follow its own stated reasons. If it did, then there would be no choice to be made between a politics around class and those around gender, race and sexuality.

On the other hand, the desires he gives expression to are pretty unpleasant, an enjoyment predicated on a structural negativity and an othering so obvious that no one is actually cited except in the most phantasmatic, and B-grade, terms. They are, very clearly, just others for him, and presumably a threat to his enjoyment, presented as the cause of his sinking into depression, et cetera. I am not suggesting that other people cannot make someone unhappy, upset or cause them to have any other emotional response. I am saying that it is not clear to me why, if someone thinks a political project is a worthwhile one, they are incapable of making an argument for that on its own terms. What is the point of venturing into denunciations of those who publicly criticise the race and gender politics of some of those who are involved in this project? And, for that matter, doing very little other than this?

What is the link between these if not the attempt to organise a political subject on the ground of an active denial of the importance of racism and sexism? Charming. Unless the entire point of the exercise is to recruit people on the basis that they do not think anti-racism or anti-sexism is important or, worse, wish to remove these politics from the field, the connection makes no sense whatsoever. And it seems to me that this has become something of a mantra on parts of the Left, without much consideration of how it relates to the politics of scarcity they claim to be so keen to oppose. I happen to think this is an expression of those politics, a function of competition over apparently shrinking resources between identities claiming to best represent certain interests.

In other words, I do not see how Mark can, on the one hand, rail against “identitarianism” and “essentialism” while, on the other hand, offer a concept of class that is nothing more than identity politics—in this case, the identity politics of white men, and their rights to go about their enjoyment, their entitlement to treat others as they wish, unhindered by criticism. His entire definition of class is threatened if it includes gender or race, which is bizarre—though perhaps no more so than characterising critics of Brand and Owens as residents of “Vampire’s Castle.”

This is liberalism aggrieved, a reactionary politics that blames the less powerful for the loss of enjoyments previously regarded as entitled. It is certainly not communism, and barely rates as socialism. In this, “class” is presented as an identity and not a politics of social transformation. It is the libidinal economy of a subject that desires to be prefigured and, apparently, can only be erected by vigorously defending itself against criticism of its racialised and gendered conditions. It would be funny were it not so very close to the far Right’s delusional characterisation of white men as victims of bullying, a deranged reversal of the actual material distribution of power and money, and one that has enabled the far Right to recruit working class people as its willing footsoldiers and as allies of the already powerful.

I do not believe people need to be or in fact should be recruited to socially transformative political projects by way of an infantilising insistence on the infallibility of various self-selected ‘leaders,’ so it makes no sense to me to respond to criticism, however robust, as if that were the biggest problem or the most significant impediment to social change. Unless the aim was to legitimise the violence of reaction. To be very clear, I have my own criticisms of intersectionality and I don’t doubt that some would disagree with those. But they are exactly the same as my criticisms of Mark’s and others’ insistence on presenting class politics as an identity politics, one that ends up being exclusive of serious considerations of gender, sexuality and race.And they diverge by putting me on the opposite side of a debate about the distribution of power—such as it is—that Mark has clearly put himself on in this instance.

Projection screen, v/ @majsaleh

I think it’s telling that Mark never talks about capitalism in terms of the processes of exploitation or surplus value, of the ways in which capitalism functions as the naturalisation of gratuitous labour, and in particular how this plays out in gendered and racialised terms. This is the sense in which Marx invoked vampires, and loath as I am to render capital in monstrous terms, the way Marx used it (as a critique of exploitation) is nevertheless the inverse of what Mark is attempting to do here. Maybe he does not think those concepts are relevant or important. Fine. But they are precisely what explains how subjects are formed and recomposed—contra the voluntarist, decisionist fantasies of Leninists. And these concepts—the very things that distinguished Marx’s critique of capitalism from the radical liberalism of his day—make it possible to think about a politics that does not play race off against gender, or pit class against sexuality, at a time of austerity.

But, when all is said and done, venting the fantasy that a political project is being thwarted by criticisms on social media does not ensure that those projects will succeed. That is, unless ‘success’ has been practically and more or less consciously defined as the recruitment of people who do not want to talk critically about race or gender politics, will not overly criticise those (white men) who present themselves as their ‘leaders,’ and who will actively curtail any committment to anti-racism or anti-sexism in the name of a ‘class unity’ magically redefined as essentially white and male. In all seriousness, if I am wrong and this is not the case, then why has there been no other political agenda offered, no other desire given expression to, other than this increasingly frenetic insistence to stop people—not just those inside this organisation but even those who do not wish to join it!—talking so much about racism and sexism? It’s not just that this mantra denies the importance of racism and sexism. It’s that it has no critique of capital or the ways in which capitalism works.