Death haunts every line of flight, tempting revolutionary forms of self-destruction into becoming forms of reactionary suicide

Thesis: States and state-capture [comparison + appropriation] are solutions to the problem posed by the lines of flight encountered in the historical process of State formation. But while both capture and its evasion presupposes these lines of flight as indeterminate processes of destratification, they are perpetually confronted by Death, which haunts every line of flight tempting revolutionary forms of self-destruction into becoming forms of reactionary suicide.

Why do we begin with this claim? Precisely because it is in light of the decoded flows that escape the overcoding of the State that Deleuze and Guattari identify the “Oriental solution” and the “Western solution” as “two solutions found for the same problem” (ATP, 451), where the problem in question is the principle of evolution Deleuze and Guattari identify as internal to every State form: “The archaic State does not overcode without also freeing a large quantity of decoded flows that escape from it” (ATP, 448). And it is precisely the flows that escape Statist capture that pose a fundamental problem with respect to every social formation where it is the State that functions as its principle of unity and composition. As Deleuze and Guattari put it: “…all decoded flows, of whatever kind, are prone to forming a war machine directed against the State” (ATP, 459, emphasis mine). Thus, in accordance with the analysis Deleuze and Guattari present throughout this chapter, we can say that, for example, the despotism of the Asiatic mode of production where an individual’s productive activity was the property of a more fundamental communal form of property embodied in the Despot and the separation of publicly owned land from individual proprietors who make use of some portion of this land insofar as what legitimates one’s role as proprietor is one’s belonging to a juridically intelligible community of producers—“the private proprietor of land is such only as a Roman, but as a Roman he is a private proprietor of land”—are simply two separate solutions to the problem posed by the lines of flight enveloped within the surplus set free by Statist overcoding. For Deleuze and Guattari, it is precisely in response to the threat posed by this surplus of decoded flows that the archaic imperial state appears as “the fragmented forms of the Aegean world,” which “presupposes the great imperial form of the Orient and finds in it a stock or agricultural surplus, which they consequently have no need to produced or accumulate for themselves” (ATP, 459); while it is the pre-modern forms of State capture that are found in autonomous cities, monarchies, and feudal systems, that are “obliged to reconstitute a stock” (ATP, 459) or surplus as the principle of its existence, since each are qualitatively different modes of managing (i.e. governing) their respective surpluses of decoded flows. 

That said, the capture enacted by both archaic imperial States, as well as pre-modern State formations, as Deleuze and Guattari remind us, remain fundamentally “ambiguous.” As they write:

The subjectifications, conjunctions, and appropriations do not prevent the decoded flows from continuing to flow, and from ceaselessly engendering new flows that escape…This is where there is an ambiguity in these apparatuses: they can only function with decoded flows, and yet they do not let them stream together…This accounts for the historians’ impression that capitalism “could have” developed beginning at a certain moment, in China, in Rome, in Byzantium, in the Middle Ages.

In contrast to its archaic and pre-modern forms, it is tempting (though incorrect) to conceive of the modern nation-state as the resolution to the problems archaic and pre-modern States were incapable of addressing (i.e. the potential war machine engendered by overcoding as modality of Capture); as resolving a transhistorical problem-set via, what our authors call, “a whole integral of decoded flows, a…generalized conjunction” (ATP, 452). Unlike its archaic and pre-modern forms, the modern nation-state captures the surpluses of decoded flows it encounters and produces, not by processes of recoding or overcoding, but by enacting a general convertibility between decoded flows themselves. That is to say, a “generalized conjugation” of the flow of labour and the flow of money and which is said to be “general” in the same way that Marx understood the generality of “productive activity in general” (ATP,452). While it is undoubtedly the case that the modern, capitalist, nation-state, regulates, manages, and governs the flows of matter-energy, population, food, and urban flow—“the four principle flows” (ATP, 468)—via the generalized axiomatic of abstraction whereby abstract quantity independent of their qualitative particularities; Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that the models for the realization of value (in accordance with this generalized axiomatic) now confront the historical emergence of “minorities” as the principal flows that envelop so many potential war machines readied to wage war on the State and against Capital. Or as they put it in the penultimate sections of this chapter, “At the same time as capitalism is effectuated in the denumerable sets serving as its models, it necessarily constitutes nondenumerable sets that cut across and disrupt those models” (ATP, 472). 

Less a solution to the abstractly posed problem of the virtual war machine enveloped within the decoded flows that emerge in the process of Statist capture, the modern nation-state is a solution to a problem specific to Capital’s conjugation of flows of labour with flows of wealth. Insofar as both labour and wealth are processes that tend to escape systems of machinic enslavement/social subjection insofar as they assume the form of an abstractsurplus—surplus-population, surplus-value—that must be managed and governed: 

[With respect to] enslavement and the…dominance of constant capital…labor seems to have splintered in two directions:intensive surplus-labor that no longer even takes the route of labor [unemployed & not seeking subsistence via the wage-relation] and extensive-labor that has become erratic and floating [temporary work, gig economy, work in the ‘underground’ economy].

Now, with respect to the relation of decoded flows of population to the decoded flows of wealth under capital, the tendential increase in surplus-population [superfluous labour from the vantage point of SNLT] is directly proportional to the production of ever increasing magnitudes of surplus-value. That is to say, the surplus of labour initially required for the historical emergence of capital (so-called primitive accumulation) eventually becomes a degree of superfluous, unwaged, labour; labour in excess of the Average of Socially Necessary Labour-Time required for the production of surplus-value. As Marx put it in his chapter on ‘The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,’ from the first volume of Capital. If the means of production, as they increase in extent and effective power, become to a lesser extent means for employing workers, this relation is itself in turn modified by the fact that in proportion as the productivity of labour increases, capital increases its supply of labour more quickly than its demand for workers. The over-work of the employed part of the working class swells the ranks of its reserve, while, conversely, the greater pressure that the reserve by its competition exerts on the employed workers forces them to submit to over-work and subjects them to the dictates of capital. The condemnation of one part of the working class of enforced idleness by the over-work of the other part, and vice versa, becomes a means of enriching the individual capitalists, and accelerates at the same time the production of the industrial reserve army on a scale corresponding with the progress of social accumulation. And yet, if nation-states are State formations subordinated to the axiomatic of the market and are said to be isomorphic, does this suggest the State’s terminal decline, if not it’s outright dissolution? For D&G, things appear to be otherwise, since it is precisely as models of realization that nation-states construct & combine various domains or ‘sectors,’ thereby ensuring a sufficiently generic and abstract nature of the decoded flows of labour and wealth. As they write, the nation-state “groups together and combines several sectors according to its resources, population, wealth, industrial capacity, etc., thus the States…are not cancelled out but change form…models of realization for a world wide axiomatic that exceeds them” (ATP, 454). 

That said, what remains unclear is the extent to which the modern nation-state can be said to “reinvent,” or renew, the “megamachines” of archaic empires; especially since Deleuze and Guattari maintain that there is a real/non-conceptual difference that separates the State’s archaic imperial form from its modern variant under capitalism? As a novel form of the “megamachines” characteristic of archaic imperial States, capital’s machinic enslavement and social subjection is defined via its (1) non-specific, or generic, functioning (as opposed to a social whole defined by the specialized functioning of its parts — “a combination of resistant parts, each specialized in function”); (2) whose overall operation proceeds via forms of non-human, or machinic, control (as opposed to a social whole “operating under human control”); (3) and whose aim or purpose is the general conjugation of abstract labour and abstract value/wealth (as opposed to the transmission of motion and the assignation of specific types of work). It is due to the generic functioning of its parts, overseen by forms of non-human/machinic control, and the generalized conjugation of abstract labour and abstract wealth that, on the top of page 458, Deleuze and Guattari claim: “The axiomatic itself, of which the States are models of realization, restores or reinvents, in new and now technical forms, an entire system of machinic enslavement” (ATP, 458). What is more, if social subjection and machinic enslavement are said to be coextensive and mutually constitutive of capital as a form of capture that is global in its scope, it is, as Marx writes, precisely because with capital “the totality of the free workers’ capacity appears to him as his property…over which he, as subject, exercises domination;” all while the individuals productive capacities are simultaneously one component part of a generalized, non-specific, abstract labour that relates to the production of wealth “in such a way as to no longer produce or use it” for its own ends. Thus, what distinguishes enslavement from subjection, for Deleuze and Guattari, is the relation of subordination that obtains between human beings and their technical and/or social means of production and consumption (worker or user). To say that human activity is subordinated to the technical elements of production, implies that it is the production process that enlists the human for ends other than those they could have, or may have, set for themselves. To be a component of a machine means that one acts but in the service of an end/aim that they themselves have neither set for themselves nor have consented to. Machinic enslavement = the human being as means for non-human ends; the human as object of an alien will. 

By contrast, to say that human activity is subjected to the machine is to say that while non-human elements of social life may now be enlisted, or put in the service, of ends that individuals have set for themselves; there remains a relation of dependence, which cannot be abolished simply on the basis of voluntary, individual, wills. Social subjection = the human being’s employment of external means for the purposes of a finite set of socially valorized-validated ends (activities, practices, life styles, etc). However, if, as Deleuze and Guattari claim, enslavement maintains some degree of primacy over social subjection under capital, it is due to the fact that with the advent of “cybernetic and informational machines” labour is no longer the substance of value and has become an attribute of machinic social substance. This marks their break from orthodox and even heterodox readings of Marx, which either uphold the labour theory of value, propose a value theory of labour, or assert the primacy of exchange-value over use-value as the source of all capitalist abstraction, including abstract labour. Hence Deleuze and Guattari’s claims regarding the existence of machinic surplus value as distinct from surplus value derived from human labour-power:

In the organic composition of capital, variable capital defines a regime of subjection of the worker (human surplus value), the principal framework of which is the business or factory. But with automation comes a progressive increase in the proportion of constant capital; we then see a new kind of enslavement: at the same time the work regime changes; surplus value becomes machinic, and the framework expands to all of society. 

Of the various questions, problems, and new modes of analyzing capital that are opened up by their novel concept of machinic surplus-value, one of its most interesting, if not most pressing, consequences has to do with the reconfiguration of the relation between human and machine, between living labour and dead labour, and thus, between life and death. And for the simple reason that the machinic processes of capital have made it such that, 

we survive only by submitting to the demands of death. The dominant theme of adaptation points toward the necessity of integrating the living machine into the ‘mechanics of death.’ Survival, in a certain way, means becoming a servant death, i.e., accepting that the very conditions of life are controlled…by an outside organism following a plan whose complexities may provide an illusion of autonomy but ultimately reveal themselves as elements of an alien body.

Capital is this alien body that gives rise to the machinic-body of industrial capital for whom workers are but appendages. This is a body said to be alien, and precisely because what is at issue is not simply the form of alienation proper to living labour as mere appendage to the automation of the process of production (dead labour), but the fact that there is an alienation proper to machines themselves, machines that are “only a working part, on element, of another machine, situated in the organizing movement of the general mechanism of production that is placed under the surveillance of engineers and mechanics…and the entire system’s intelligibility can only be located outside itself, on the level of capital” (The Productive Body, 128-29). This alienation of living-labour into a form of death that dominates it in turn, seemingly pales in comparison to the utilization of this alienated death for ends other than its own, whose alien form signals capital’s transcendence of both the living and the dead. This is the transcendence of the machinic processes of axiomatic capture over the newly decoded flows set free by capital’s integration at the global level as much as it is the transcendence of the overcoded flows of previous state-forms. And yet, perhaps ours is less a problem of confronting an impersonal force from which even death could not escape and more a question of how to subject both living-labour and the machinic processes of capital to a singular kind of death. That is to say, in order to give a new form to social life requires “subjects to die in order pass from one form to the other”, for “it is through death that a body reaches completion not only in time but in space, and it is through death that its lines form or outline a shape” (ATP, 107). And it is here that Deleuze and Guattari offer an understanding of a specific modality that lines of flight may take in the course of their becoming that coincides with the oft-cited definition of communism as the real movement that abolishes the present state of things and itself in the process. In each case, it is a question of the abolition of a determinate form of collective agency, or what amounts to the same, the realization of an intensive or virtual agency as the precondition for the shape of politics to come.

Hence their well-known prescription of an ‘art of caution’—“dismantling the organism has never meant killing yourself”—as the adequately pragmatic approach to the processes of destratification, or deformalization, of formed bodies and signifying functions, since every process of destratification is as much the the site of revolutionary victories as it is our most demoralizing defeats: “Caution is the art common to all three: if in dismantling the organism there are times one courts death in slipping away from significance and subjection to one courts falsehood, illusion and hallucination and psychic death” (ATP, 160). Death haunts every line of flight, tempting revolutionary forms of self-destruction into becoming forms of reactionary suicide.

taken from here

Foto: Sylvia John

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