Context : DecentralizedLeft

(Read with DecentralizedLeft/ParticularsAndUniversals)

Plurality of narratives, plurality of institutions. I would advocate both. I guess narratives shouldn't be all emcompassing (colonized by an expanding Marxist discourse, for example) in a way that either avoids conflict or sets priorities over different agendas (gender dissolution is a chapter of class dissolution etc.). Independence, as I understood in DecentralizedLeft, follows from the plurality of institutions. Does that mean that all left institution should be a temporary item? (If all leftists are independent and uncommitted to any single institution - with its accompanying narrative - then it seems that institutions are not there to stay).

Left feeling, I would say, is about minding the minds. Making the individual freer, more subjectivity, less coorporation. Guattari and Negri understand communism as "the establishment of a communal lifestyle in which individuality is recognized and truly liberated, not merely opposed to the collective." (Communists like us, 16) The new left seems to be a decentralized left - nobody owns the brand. Guattari and Negri, for instance, understand leftist strategy as a collaboration of all movements that in any direction work either for liberation of work or for LiberationOfSubjectivity. Therefore, the molar-molecular alliance: molar for workplace structural strategies (class struggle, imperialism), molecular for subjectivity strategies (the politics of the personal).

Now, if one welcomes every act that is somehow subversive against the "semiotics of capital" (Guattari and Negri's phrase) even when they conflict with each other (see again my stuff in DecentralizedLeft), it seems that we need a single no, that is a negative narrative that is somehow common in each subversive action. This can be again a Marxist story, or a PoCo theory, or a classical radical Feminist story etc. The idea of a decentralized left is reasonable to the extent that we can resist the temptation to encompass every left struggle within a narrative of resistance. Guattari's own strategy to do exorcize this temptation was to emphasize the importance of non-standard desires and take them as the starting point of molecular revolutions. Now, we cannot provide a narrative about where and when a non-standard, subversive desire will emerge (that's the thesis, I guess). The failures of the system can come from anywhere - Foucault struggled to maintain that power and antipower have no specified locations. To me these ideas that seem to make decentralized left possible make a lot of sense. Providing an subversive narrative would amount to the same as providing a definition of reason or, for that matter, a global criterion for what counts as true. Now, if resisting desires cannot be accommodated in a narrative, whatever is resisted can only be partially and very provisionally described by means of a narration.

Decentralized left, I believe, has more to do with the Second International and, in general, with pre-Marxist communist movements than with Marxist priorization of class struggle. I've heard DariusSokolov is becoming knowledgeable about 19th century left. Now, GaryatriSpivak seems to have no problem stating that she is a Marxist. She maybe believes that we can counter Marxism only with another narrative and it is better to assume Marxism as a strategical tool. Then comes a question: could decentralized left be a kind of instrumentalism about left narratives? (I would like it to be not quite that).


I take it that you use "molar" and "molecular" to refer to high level aggregations and individuals?

(See also : InterlevelTheories)

What concerns me with this plurality of narratives and resistances is that it might allow any sort of resistance to any "enemy" narrative to join the party. For example, as you know, I'm against the left getting caught up in support for what I'll call IslamoFeudalism. Now, I can clearly see how, given our contingent current world situation, various Islamic groups and ideas are "subversive" or "resistant" with respect to a dominant Western / Capitalist narrative. And if one welcomes every act that is somehow subversive against the "semiotics of capital" there'll be a temptation to try to bring them into the club.

But I certainly don't want to welcome them. Instead, I'd suggest that there must be a minimum self-consistent core of common values or ideas within all those narratives we want to accept into the plurality of the left. Otherwise, it seems we'd end-up embracing every group. If theocrats can be welcome despite their homophobia why shouldn't right-libertarians be welcome for their pro-choice views despite their hostility to welfare provision?

(See also AntiAmericanism, SeptemberEleventhPlusTwo)


Phil : What concerns me with this plurality of narratives and resistances is that it might allow any sort of resistance to any "enemy" narrative to join the party.

My first hunch is to react inviting us to think about what "welcome" means. I realise that I'm doing this very quickly and will probably slide into diversity as instrumentalism but I'll try. Ok, we can welcome Islam as a resistance text if we acknowledge through and through that it has no claim to be an all-emcompassing narrative. If Islam subverts the semiotics of capital by being antiracist and anti-colonialist, good, but clearly it does not subvert phallocentrism, heteropatriarchy etc. The desire to resist within Islam is to be welcomed; that should say nothing about its credentials as a grand narrative.

Does it make any sense?

Anyways I think the questions at stake now in this DecentralizedLeft forum are getting really inviting.


Well, what does "welcome" mean?

For example, if it means "engage with and listen to" then I'm all for it. Particularly listening to the criticisms of my own position. I certain do want to hear criticism from Islamists. But on the other hand, I'm pretty curious about criticisms from anyone including right-libertarians and conservatives. So being open to dialogue with and willing to learn from a narrative doesn't seem enough to be "welcoming" it. Nor does, "agreeing with or admiring some aspects of" which are also part of my engagement with the right.

(See also CriticalRationalism)

I still think that, for "pluralism of narratives even where they contradict" to be a useful notion of DecentralizedLeft we need to draw a boundary about what's "inside" or "left" (although with reservations) vs. what's "outside" or "right". As I understand you are suggesting a very broad church which goes "if something within the narrative seems valuable we'll accept it, as long as we are allowed to criticise the bits we don't like".

This seems to be putting a lot of emphasis on the idea of "allowed".

Another way to go, is that the left can encompass everything that isn't "capitalism".

I don't much like that, as :

  • a) it appears too negative : surely we should stand for something.
  • b) it seems to hinge too much on the definition of "capitalism". (Maybe we need an OnCapitalism page to pin that down)

So, I still want, eventually, to be able to extract commonalities from these plural narratives.