Semiotext(e), South Pasadena, 2021. 247 pp., $15.95 pb
Reviewed by Conor Bean
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books | June 11, 2022
For a decade now Maurizio Lazzarato’s analyses have been swiftly translated into English after a period of relative lag in uptake in the anglophone world, a case of missed connection in the flurry of importing French and Italian radical thought. His reception has picked up speed because he writes passionately in a polemical tenor that makes for quick and punchy reading, although much of the analysis relies on technical terminology from contemporary European philosophy that renders accessibility elusive at times. The rapidity of translation via the Semiotex(e) Intervention Series has resonated with the conjunctural nature of Lazzarato’s writing, as he has moved swiftly to make sense of a shifting political terrain in theory and providing assessments of radical political movements. Capital Hates Everyone: Fascism or Revolution offers a political intervention in the sense of taking stock of contemporary tendencies and putting forth a set of strategic concerns animating a politics for the moment of its writing. As such, Capital Hates Everyone might be best read as a historical appraisal of a particular conjuncture in which the threat of ascendent fascist tendencies in global politics meets the continuing dominance of neoliberalism, while protest movements like the Gilets jaunes in France struggle to find a footing. In the book’s introduction, the ‘yellow vests’ movement roiling France at the time of the book’s writing is instructive in multiple ways. First, far from being a model of future organization, the yellow vests movement demonstrates some of the weaknesses and temptations found in what Lazzarato describes as ‘68 thought’, the proliferation of leftist political theories and organizational models in Western Europe since the failed pre-revolutionary moment of 1968. More than this, however, the response of the French state to these protests has laid bare the depth of ‘class hatred’, the affective revulsion of capitalism’s managers for any insurgent activity, along with the strategic lengths they will go to erase political possibilities beyond the neoliberal consensus (9-10). Hence the title, Capital Hates Everyone. For Lazzarato, anti-capitalists must reckon with the intensity of reaction that capitalists can rouse among themselves and in new fascist movements that seek nothing less than the liquidation of dissent.
The book proceeds in four parts that take the form of an introduction, two mostly autonomous chapters that read like individual essays on particular pitfalls in contemporary anti-capitalist theory, and a conclusion focused on prospects for revolution today. For readers of Lazzarato’s previous work, the two main essays can be read as expanding on the grim prognosis Lazzarato offered in concluding his work with Éric Alliez Wars and Capital: ‘since the 1970s, Capital has had a strategy and a war machine; proletarians and their affiliates have had no strategies and no war machines’ (2018: 387). Capital Hates Everyone plumbs the depths of this abject situation, where first, capital has a coherent strategic understanding of how to divide opposition and continue a regime of accumulation at ever greater intensity, whereas anti-capitalists have no clear direction in how to proceed strategically. Second, capital is actively assembling war machines for actualizing its strategies, whereas anti-capitalists have failed in their tactical experimentations of the past five decades to organize threatening war machines to pit against capital. I will speak more to Lazzarato’s machinic terminology later, but I note here that readers may find themselves a bit lost with the author’s prolific use of the concepts of ‘war’ and ‘war machines’. As the book progresses, this framework sometimes gets in the way of clearly delineating the agency and organization of social actors engaging in political contestation, with different machinic entities seeming to fall away or merge into one another at key moments in the analysis. The contemporary strategic failure of anti-capitalists, Lazzarato argues, is made possible partly by a reluctance to understand the violence undergirding neoliberal capitalism. Rather than deviating from neoliberalism, violent police and military repression is part of the ordinary course of neoliberalism, up to and including open fascist violence as seen in General Pinochet’s Chile. Lazzarato is adamant that any feasible strategy to change the given state of things must reckon with the fact that this violence exists, that it is part of a war to divide and suppress a potentially insurgent population, and that capital will allow this violence to be wielded by fascist forces currently gathering steam around the globe (16-18).
In the lengthy chapter ‘When Capital Goes to War’, Lazzarato reiterates his critique of Michel Foucault that is familiar to readers of Governing by Debt and Wars and Capital, where he finds Foucault to systematically obscure the violence needed to realize neoliberalism. Accusing Foucault of portraying a relatively anodyne new form of ‘governmentality’, Lazzarato argues that the titan of French theory fails to understand that this form of governance is only possible on the condition of the near total defeat of revolutionary alternatives, through force of arms if need be. Moreover, Foucault and inheritors of his governmentality analytic fail to understand the role of racism in establishing the subjective conditions of possibility for neoliberal governmentality, a racism that should be understood as a form of war to divide a potentially resistant population and prepare the groundwork for a seemingly smooth mechanism of economic reform. The role of racism thus directly speaks to an important but idiosyncratic understanding of ‘war’ that animates Lazzarato’s analysis. Rather than signifying only armed fighting between military units, for Lazzarato war is a constant in the work of capital’s power over the last century, sometimes breaking out into global conflict but more frequently occurring at a lower degree of intensity as organized counter-revolution actively shaping the subjectivities of the governed, with violence against ‘subaltern classes’ as a particularly virulent form of this counter-revolution (27-29). In this light, strategy is not merely a way of thinking purposively about politics; it is the framework needed for grasping the contestation always at hand in politics, a politics that of necessity has either a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary content according to its relation to capital’s wars (110).
Lazzarato uses this framework to set up what will likely be a particular flash point for readers, his discussion of ‘neo-fascism’, which he identifies as ‘national-liberal’ as opposed to national-socialist, adhering firmly to the preservation of market mechanisms and capital accumulation while undertaking a vigorous assault on minority subjectivities (42). Lazzarato is quick to point out differences between the wave of neo-fascism gaining momentum globally and the classical examples of fascisms in inter-war 20th century Europe. If anything, Lazzarato might be a bit too successful at demonstrating the differences and leave the reader wondering if there is enough conceptual continuity between the two phases to warrant the shared designation of ‘fascism’. Lazzarato sustains their commonality by reference to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of fascism in A Thousand Plateaus, where a fundamentally suicidal drive of fascism renders its own self-destruction along with the state power it appropriates pleasurable in the course of liquidating political enemies (44). This destruction, according to Lazzarato, serves capital by clearing space for renewed capitalist experimentation in hyper-accumulation, although capital itself also harbors a self-destructive desire in continuing to undermine the ecological and economic conditions of its possibility (107). A reader who is not amenable to the Deleuze-Guattari analysis of fascism, or who finds unconvincing the author’s attempt to stretch this analysis to 21st century political movements headed by figures like Trump, Bolsonaro, and Erdogan, will therefore have little room for accepting Lazzaratos’s analysis of neo-fascism staked so directly on the reference.
Questions concerning organization come into greater prominence in the second main chapter of the text, ‘Technical Machine and War Machine’. Lazzarato makes a strong case for reorienting debates about automation and technological development toward questions of strategy. For Lazzarato, new imbrications of humans and technical machines should be viewed in light of the technology’s strategic use for capital, and the adoption of any technology cannot be understood outside of the broader political situation in which it intervenes. Part of the problem with contemporary leftist discourse on the sociopolitical effects of machine development, Lazzarato contends, stems from longstanding conceptions of machinery descending from Marx and his understanding of human subjects being compelled into reified relations with technical objects that depend on their ‘living labor’ (157-159). Lazzarato encourages a deep rethinking of the ‘anthropocentrism’ of Marx’s theory and turns to theorists like Gilbert Simondon, Deleuze, and Guattari to furnish a theory of machines that understands that the human subjectivities, technical machines, and social assemblages distributing humans and machines are co-constituting in their processes of emergence, rendering strict individuation of human subjects and ontologically entirely distinct machines impossible. This conception of machine is also fruitfully tied to an analysis of Frantz Fanon’s writing on radio in the Algerian war for independence, where Lazzarato makes concrete the connection between a technical machine and a revolutionary war machine taking up the insurgent potentials of radio transmission in service of anti-colonial struggle (137-144). Lazzarato’s discussion of technical machines serves as an important spur to rethink the political implications of technological development for leftist strategy, as well as for re-examining the theoretical underpinnings of a ironclad human/machine distinction in debates over technology.
Although this chapter is frequently compelling, it is reliant on philosophical language to a degree that likely sacrifices accessibility for a broader audience. Equally troubling, Lazzarato often appears to take liberties with already difficult concepts and deploy them in inconsistent ways. An example of this is Lazzarato’s multiple uses of the concept of ‘machine’, taking on the notion of ‘social machine’ from Deleuze and Guattari in order to conceive of a social formation in its interrelation of socioeconomic and communicative flows, and then swiftly pivoting to substitute this with their concept of ‘war machine’ in order to draw out emphasis on ‘the dominant and the dominated, relations between forces’ (125). By substituting this concept for ‘social machine’, one fundamental concept of Deleuze and Guattari is jettisoned while another is doing double duty beyond its original construction, and given the degree to which Lazzarato depends on Deleuze and Guattari’s corpus, the risks of category confusion are significant (I note in passing Lazzarato also leaves behind the concept of ‘capitalist axiomatic’ which he previously employed in Governing by Debt and might otherwise stabilize some of the conceptual work in this text).
These risks become clear in trying to pin down the relationships between capital, fascism, and various kinds of machines. He opens the second chapter by describing a neofascist social machine bringing the use of technical machines into the fold of strategy, and this social machine can only be a war machine in conditions of capitalism (119). Earlier, however, Lazzarato speaks of ‘capital’s war machine’ taking over the seat of political decision (in Carl Schmitt’s sense) from the state (94), and earlier still speaks of capital making the state and fascism ‘components of its war machine’ (46, see also 212 and 227). In light of this, it can be difficult to discern who or what is doing what at any given time, nor is it clear if fascists need to take over the state at all in light of capital’s effective seizure of the state according to Lazzarato. It is apparent that Lazzarato is positing a symbiotic relationship between capital and fascism, yet in the whir of their machinery the distinction between them seems to dissolve. This may impress a sense of raised stakes in the need to confront capital’s power, now synonymous with fascism, yet the loss of analytical value for each individual term is too great to take lightly.
Lazzarato concludes with a set of hypotheses on the current prospects for revolution to be further worked out in his forthcoming work with Alliez (247). He remains adamant that any revolutionary organizing on the horizon must accept the effective displacement of the working class from the position of central revolutionary subject, set aside Leninist and Maoist organizing models, and embrace the potentials for historically oppressed subjectivities’ ‘becoming-revolutionary’ in the course of anti-capitalist activity (232). Lazzarato offers no easy answers, however. The task of building what he sees as a revolutionary war machine capable of directly confronting the capital-fascism nexus is ‘the task that falls to a revolutionary organization and to future revolutionaries’ (235).
11 June 2022
- Alliez, Éric and and Lazzarato, Maurizio 2018 Wars and Capital South Pasadena: Semiotext(e)
- Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix 1987 A Thousand Plateaus Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
- Lazzarato, Maurizio 2015 ) Governing by Debt South Pasadena: Semiotext(e)
Conor Bean is a PhD. Candidate in Political Science at Johns Hopkins University studying 20th Century French political thought and Spinozist affect theory.
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