FULL TIME DOMINATION
By: Raúl Zibechi
In every era it has been important to know the modes in which the dominant classes dominate. A good part of anti-systemic thought, in its most diverse sources, has been dedicated to the comprehension of those modes, in particular in periods of change and sharp turns, when those above create new forms of oppression, occasionally brutal, most of the time subtle and invisible.
Weeks ago, the Catalan historian Josep Fontana published a moving article entitled “The logic of the concentration camp” (Sinpermiso, July 19, 2015), in which he asserts that Greece has been converted into a concentration camp where the workers have no rights and will also have miserable pensions, which is the mode of “eliminating those that are no longer productive.”
Fontana is one of the most respected living historians, with vast production and a solid Marxist formation. He is not a person accustomed to agitating without foundation. In his short article (that deserves greater distribution) and based on the most recent works about the camps, he maintains that they were not only places of extermination, but also “industrial organizations managed with peculiar, but very rational, economic criteria for obtaining the maximum benefits.”
He says that even the annihilation of the Jews was thought out with economic criteria, and the prisoners were forced to work until they were exhausted and died on the construction of highways, coal mines, farms and even in the synthetic rubber factory of IG Farben.
To Fontana, it’s important “to think about the similarities that there are between the logic of the concentration camps and the austerity policies that are imposed on us,” since the fundamentals are the same: reducing the cost of labor to the minimum and eliminating those who don’t produce. It sounds very strong, but it is an invitation to reflect on the world in which we live, something that turns out to be urgent in Latin America.
In Homo sacer (sacred man), Giorgio Agamben warns: “The concentration camp and not the city is now the West’s political paradigm” (p. 230). He says more: “There is no possible return from the concentration camps to classic policies” (p. 238). He reaches that conclusion through the concept of “bare life,” devoid of true rights, flesh without more, “no distinction between law and fact, norm and biological life.”
Agamben tells us that today domination consists of our lives having been plundered of all human quality, as if human beings had been reduced to vegetables or animal meat.
It’s not about thinking about the concentration camp as a closed space with barbed wire and watchtowers, but rather as a (sometimes) more subtle mechanism, which reduces our lives to a mere going to and coming from work (like slaves) and to consumption (both in spaces hyper-watched with cameras). Biological life is where the subjects have taken away from them the least possibility of regulating their hours of work and reproduction. Heteronomy in a pure state, as happens now in the sweatshop, but in reality in all the spaces and times of daily life. Full time domination! Therefore, Agamben points out that bare life, born in the big totalitarian states of the XX Century, is today “normal” life.
Reaching this point, we must ask ourselves: how does one make policy in these conditions? How does one work for emancipation? The proper answer is that we don’t know, that we have to learn, reflect, examine and distrust anyone who already has the prepared answer.
The decisive question: what left, what kind of movements, for a reality of domination and control of this kind?
The recent experience of Greece can be a good start. Saying that Tsipras is a “traitor” is the worst path to follow because it suggests that everything consists of putting another in his place in order to resolve the dilemma, when the problem is precisely that whoever occupies that place can’t do anything different. In terms of the camp, the one that occupies those positions is not able but to play the role of guardian. Or they will annihilate him.
Starting with these considerations, for those that continue engaged in resistance and emancipation it seems necessary to reflect in two directions.
The first is to be able to discern about the different modalities that the paradigm of the concentration camp is assuming in our societies, how it is manifested, what the immaterial wires that encircle us are, who are the guardians, where the barracks are, and so on until having a clear panorama.
It is the central task, which will permit us to place ourselves where we are, to observe what characteristics domination has, but also what its weak points are. In principle, and save a contrary demonstration, state institutions ought to be considered part of the “dispositive camp.”
The second is to begin to construct a type of organization for operating inside the camp, with the perspective of escaping and, at any moment destroying it. Up to now the better part of the organizations, left parties and popular movements have acted more like guardians than as organizers of escapes, although not being conscious of it.
Organizations capable of constructing secure spaces “outside the control of the powerful” (James Scott) will be necessary, where it is possible to organize escapes and other actions. We are no longer in the factory era (discipline within closed spaces), when oppression is concentrated in the workplace, where they scoffed at the control of the overseers. The same prevails for women, who always created spaces of freedom within oppression. “Bio-politics –writes Agamben– makes vain any attempt to found political liberties in the rights of the citizen” (p. 231).
There are no manuals for traveling this path. Historic experience, that of the slaves and the Indians, can serve as an inspiration. The community and the quilombo seem inescapable references. The rest will have to be improvised; save the ethic and the desire for freedom.
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Translation: Chiapas Support Committee
Friday, August 7, 2015