Academic journal article New Formations

Weatherman, the Militant Diagram, and the Problem of Political Passion

Academic journal article New Formations

Weatherman, the Militant Diagram, and the Problem of Political Passion

Article excerpt

'Mutant' workers in 'veritable wars of subjectivity'; for Felix Guattari, this is what constitutes the history of the workers' movement. (1) He has in mind the events of revolutionary upheaval, the Paris Commune, October 1917, May 1968. But the problematic of revolutionary subjectivity--in its affective, semiotic, organisational, and imaginary registers--is one that pervades modern socialist, communist and anarchist politics. This problematic is that of the 'militant', of 'militancy', a persistent marker--indeed, often the self-declared guarantor--of radical subjectivity across the spectrum of extra-parliamentary politics. One can think of militancy as a technology of the self, an expression of the working on the self in the service of revolutionary change. However, unlike the subjective correlates of the great revolutionary events, for Guattari this more prosaic aspect of radical practice is not altogether joyful.

This paper is a critique of the militant. (2) In particular it seeks to understand the ways militancy effectuates political passions and a certain unworking or deterritorialisation of the self in relation to political organisations and the wvider social environment within which militants would enact change. To this end the paper traces a 'diagram' or 'abstract machine' of militancy, and considers a particular animation of this diagram in the Weatherman organisation in the United States at the turn of the 1970s. Returning to Marx's concept of the party, the paper then sketches the principle outlines of a counter figure--an 'a-militant diagram', or dispersive ecology of political composition--that suggests a rather different process of subjective unworking.

MILITANT PASSION

Guattari locates the emergence of the modern militant formation in what he calls the 'Leninist breakthrough' during the 1903 Second Congress of the All-Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, from where--following certain procedural and organisational disputes--emerged a set of affective, semiotic, tactical, and organisational traits that constitute a kind of Leninist diagram or abstract machine. (3) For Deleuze and Guattari, the diagram or abstract machine is that which governs the articulation and distribution of matter and function in concrete assemblages (where a concrete assemblage may be a carcereal institution, an aesthetic practice, a military technology, an architectural school, and so on). The diagram is not an ideal type, infrastructure or transcendent idea, but a non-unifying immanent cause that is coextensive with the concrete assemblages that express it. These assemblages, in their divergent manifestations and unexpected conjunctions, in turn feedback into the diagram, both consolidating and modifying its abstract imperatives. As such, even as one sees a regularity of function across its iterations, the diagram is in principle a force of undetermined change, and one existent in a state of disequilibrium.

As a tool of analysis, the concept of the diagram enables one to attend to continuities or resonances across superficially divergent phenomena, and to approach an understanding of the dynamic consistency of arrangements of heterogeneous materials (bodies, signs, images, technologies, affects ...), whilst requiring attention to be paid both to abstract functions and to concrete manifestations as they exist in mutual presupposition. Insofar as the diagram is an abstract entity that is only perceivable through diverse concrete manifestations, the mapping of any diagram is an inexact, tentative, and experimental procedure. It is something like a 'working hypothesis that must be examined with care, re-worked, perhaps even ousted altogether', (4) and is useful only insofar as it brings an appreciation of consistencies, creative processes, points of tension, knots of power, lines of escape, that aid intervention in its field. Of course, any concrete assemblage--including a political grouping--will be governed by more than one diagram. …

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