Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Duty to Hate

"Today's Italy is destroyed just like the Italy of 1945. Or rather, the destruction is certainly more severe, since we don't find ourselves among the ruins, however harrowing, of houses and monuments, but among 'ruins of values': humanistic 'values', but what is more important, popular values."
(Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lettere luterane, 1975)

Lenin's Tomb has some important elements of analysis on the current catastrophic conjuncture of anti-Gypsy pogroms, neo-fascist revanchism and general abjection on the Italian peninsula. I think it's also worth thinking about what this may indicate about the Left's apparent paralysis and impotence. (The following lines are written with a healthy dose of national Selbsthass having just returned from the Italian north-east, where the oasis of comradeship and communist intellectuality I found myself in didn't alas compensate for the truly baleful environing political and social climate.)

First, we should not discount the role of organized crime, the Neapolitan camorra, in its role as para-government, in channelling discontent into these pogroms, following on its manipulation of the infamous garbage crisis in Naples earlier on in the year. There is a tradition of both organized crime and the far Right riding and manipulating discontent of popular and marginal strata in the South (in the historical absence of the levels of organized communist factory politics in the North): the most extreme case being the 1970-1 revolt in Reggio Calabria - in which Left groups such as Lotta Continua belatedly tried to intervene (they did, however, produce an excellent film-inquiry with Pasolini on this uprising).

Whether in Naples or in the working-class areas of Rome where it's the fascists who organize house occupations, one of the elements of the crisis of the Left is its patent incapacity, so to speak, to organize resentment. Preferring to concern itself primarily with the cultural or the international it has, at least in places like Rome, abandoned many of its traditional constituencies to the government's relentless authoritarian rhetoric of "security" and to the more obscene violence it serves as a cover for. Of course, in figures like Roman mayor Alemanno the obscene underside and the "legitimate" face of power have purely and simply fused. While in the 1970s groups like Lotta Continua or Potere Operaio actually used (à la Panthers) to provide "security" in areas abandoned by the state ("proletarian patrols"), the Left now works almost solely by lobbying, advocacy and representation (the latter no longer, since it has been foreclosed from the parliament - and soon from Europe, if "Veltrusconi" has its way in raising the cut-off point for European elections).

Contrary to the pitiful Rifondazione debate on non-violence, and the often saccharine humanism that accompanied it, it is in losing its "duty to hate" (to quote Georges Labica's formulation) and its capacity to mould and direct inchoate fear & negativity in emancipatory directions, that the Left has given up its terrain to the Right (Alleanza Nazionale leader La Russa noted at their most recent conference that with the radical Left gone from parliament only they, the fascists, would stand up for the workers... - this is also Alemanno's line, and it seems to be working, nevermind the fact that they are in a coalition whose main effect will be to intensify "insecurity" in all its forms...).

There have been countervailing tendencies, importantly among them the self-organisation of migrant workers (a considerable march in Verona just a few days ago), and a number of localized battles (against the expansion of the US base in Vicenza), but the incapacity to really connect, for instance, with the fury in factories at the astronomical levels of deaths on the job in Italy, has been pitiful. In any case, and at the risk of falling into a somewhat hydraulic model (or a mediaeval theory of political humours) it seems that a Left incapable of moulding and channelling the "sad passions", resentment, hatred, fear, or, to put it with Benjamin (himself quoting Pierre Naville), of "organizing pessimism" cannot but fade into oblivion and insignificance.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments on the situation in Italy.

But I'm intrigued by this statement:

"[I]t seems that a Left incapable of moulding and channelling the "sad passions", resentment, hatred, fear...cannot but fade into oblivion and insignificance."

Would you say that the task of the Left is to *channel* hatred and fear? If so, against whom or what should it channel it? And am I right in thinking that this model implies a herd/shepherd logic?

2:26 PM  
Blogger Savonarola said...

"Channel" might be the wrong term, if it's taken to mean express or even vent. For instance, some PCF mayors in France in the 80s channeled xenophobic sentiments through racist practices, and much of what may be disparaged as "populism" can take that form. What I mean is that given the datum of ressentiment, sad passions, etc. it is the task of the Left (a) to acknowledge that passions, affects and fear are a field of political struggle (b) sometimes to redirect such "sad passions" (suspicion of immigrants into contempt for bosses, say) and (c) to generate the kind of passions that fit forms of egalitarian and emancipatory subjectivity.

The point is in the end rather banal, I suppose: to ignore the existence of political passions and fears, or merely brand them as irrational (often betraying a facile position of safety where being reasonable comes rather cheap) can be very politically debilitating, especially when the Right is capable of operating with certain, let's say, anthropological invariants (fear, need for security, anxiety, etc.) with far greater ease.

It is not the Hobbesian problem so much as the Hobbesian solution that we need to contest.

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification. But I'm still a bit confused as to the practical content of your suggestions. It seems to me that you're floating the idea that the left should have a better top-down propaganda model - or at least, should develop better psychic technology, for more emancipatory herd coralling. But could more egalitarian forms of subjectivity really be engineered in this way?

Incidentally, what do you think of Barack Obama? It seems to me that, in one way and another, he has engaged with these questions.

11:13 AM  

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