Over the past five hundred years, political repression has been slowly but steadily delegated to the individual. The bureaucratic superego is what I call the function by which the individual prohibits itself from doing things that in the past would have been the jurisdiction of the Law. The driving force for this transfer of functions has been the flexibility of movement desired and required by capital over the course of history. But here we recall and reformulate that essential Marxian insight concerning the tendency of capitalism to produce its own contradictions. Society’s evolutionary delegation of bureaucratic superegos to take over a task once performed by the Law has permitted and encouraged the Law to become lazy, complacent, or in other words, under-resourced, as the system over time distributed its energies away from everyday legal rigidity in favor of the flexible nomos required by the spinning of a market society from feudal threads.
Consider the university, which once upon a time was a physically guarded and socially sacred space that the uninitiated were literally prohibited from entering, let alone participating in. Over time, because of economic pressures such as the need for a greater quantity of educated workers—and for many other complex reasons, of course—the aristocratic gatekeepers were forced to open the gates as it were. They certainly didn’t want to. When they were forced to, powerholders only opened slowly, dragging their feet, but they also naturally liberalized in ways that maintained their gatekeeping authority. This is observable, for instance, in what we know call the “admissions process” but which is really more like a refusal or filtering process. Thus, today they still effectively prohibit entry by the lower classes beyond that which is absolutely required by economic pressures. That said, what needs to be stressed is how much, in the slow process of liberalizing the universities, the gatekeepers job was already delegated to the very undesirables themselves in the form of an obedient habitus hammered into shape by a long and bloody few centuries of early modern, capitalist subjectivation.
To come to the point, the successful evolution of reliable docility among the masses has enabled and encouraged institutions such as universities to become huge, sprawling, overpopulated, bureaucratically confused and chaotic social spaces. Almost all contemporary institutions smugly prioritize profitability to such an extreme degree that as far as legal exploration is concerned, it’s as if the owner of a jewelry store forgot to close its door one night and never came back. Colleges, for instance, are perfectly unguarded palaces of knowledge—any bum with a state ID can sit in the back of Intro to Zoology, look through some art books in the library, openly take some pens and paper from the History Department’s mail room, and launch a more intelligent and revolutionary research program than most enrolled students. All for free, all quite legally and rather without hassle, too!
Now, of course, very few people excluded from higher education take or occupy the education that is laughably available to them at no monetary, legal, or bureaucratic expense, but they fail to do so chiefly because of the variegated historical tendencies that culminate in the production of what I’m here calling the bureaucratic superego. In other words, capitalism over hundreds of years policed the masses into obedience so effectively that it now essentially trusts them to police themselves. It is astounding, that a whole system whose essential characteristic is dishonor (recall that a contract society is by definition a society lacking honor), relies for its very existence on what is essentially an honor system that only applies to the most disadvantaged.
The imperative for the revolutionary avant-garde is simple and obvious.
There exists a space marked out between our habits of everyday life and the actual existence of state power: to the side of the police line held by our bureaucratic superegos are all of our everyday, routine thoughts and behaviors, and across a finite space are the seats of power legally enforced by state police and ultimately the military. Within this space, a space with finite width but infinite depth, are all of the imaginable behaviors over which complacent institutions have no control but which we currently fail to perform because we are thoroughly dominated by bureaucratic superegos, the police function evolutionarily delegated to human subjectivity over the past five hundred years. Beginning now with the arrival of its theoretical comprehension, this space should now be conceived as formally liberated territory to be occupied immediately by all members of the entire international revolutionary avant-garde.
It is worth noting, for example, how this present piece of writing, itself occupying the very space the formal liberation of which it is inaugurating for the whole international avant-garde, is essentially the first of its kind in the history of humanity insofar as it is able peacefully and legally announce and call for a real, concrete global revolution that would literally and effectively replace every currently existing government instantly. Because of their bureaucratic superegos which teach them to distrust and dismiss any first glimpses of human freedom, this document will appear to most bourgeois artists and scientists as delusional ravings with a child’s fingerpainting attached, and of course it is, but by a child Hegelian enough to realize it’s nonetheless the most authentic artistic, scientific, and political achievement ever accomplished by a young man inhabiting the unpoliced terrain of his society’s most advanced intellectual, aesthetic, and technological capabilities. What will appear first as apparently delusional ravings will, precisely in its unapologetic freedom and through a dialectic I will now proceed to elaborate, irresistbly inspire others around the globe to occupy this same infinite space of unpoliced possibilities.
Interestingly, we may also observe here an implication of the highest significance. Let us for convenience name “avant-garde” the revolutionary tendency in art and “vanguard” the equivalent in politics, as the etymology obviously suggests. Then, each tendency can be conceptualized as parallel phalanxes converging on the same open enemy territory. The politicized occupations of legally unpoliced space (as in the U.S. occupation sights before the evictions) as well as entrances into open buildings for the purpose of protest is known as “direct action.” Direct action, although converging on state power, does not intend the forcible occupation of the seat of state power itself,what the revolutionary tradition shortsightedly called “taking power.” This is perhaps because history has shown over the past century that the forcible occupation of the seats of state power is not truly “taking power,” but rather its opposite, namely, being “taken by power.” This, of course, has been the fate of all authoritarian socialisms or communisms. It is now possible, however, to see that truly taking power without being taken by power would be for the revolutionary phalanxes of art and politics to both converge on the enemy territory via the unpoliced fronts of everyday life.
Diagrammtically, the revolutionary phalanxes must be conceived as starting at one point but widening as they move forward toward state power. The simple reason why the avant-garde as well as the vanguard have been critical concepts in both traditions is not because there need to be leaders, as in the disastrously erroneous doctrine of Leninism. The limited quantity of representatives in any emergent avant-garde or vanguard is simply a function of the evolutionary fact that everything has to start somewhere, with some minor perturbation in the system. And it is no criticism of the individuals first possessed of the revolutionary perturbations that they are merely “privileged” or “bourgeois” as if that disqualifies them. It is conservative bourgeois ideology to critique revolutionaries for being bourgeois, for not only is it a patently ad hominem argument, it’s effect is simply to use the force of an arbitrary idea to disqualify the only wing of the proletariat who have the resources (time, education, technology, etc), in other words, who have the privilege of revolutionary consciousness and activity. It is no criticism because if they are truly revolutionary, their only function is to spread freedom through contagion, to embody a freedom whose specific nature and function is to proliferate and multiply itself through a process I’ve modeled in a previous section with respect to the political vanguard and according to which the avant-garde will expand just as well. In any event, we should conceptualized both revolutionary wings as widening and converging phalanxes as in the diagram below.
Understood this way, we gain a picture of revolutionary strategy that is a rediscovery of the traditional military tactic known as siege. It implies a theory of siege updated for an era in which the notions of guerilla warfare or armed struggle are nothing short of nostalgiac fantasies literally bought and sold peacefully, opiates dished out to the rebelliously-minded. But neither are we offering here a merely mental consumption good for postmodern theorists. This is an immediate call to action, and in fact represents yet another rediscovery of an archetypal political tradition stood on its feet in an era standing on its head. I am hereby declaring what is essentially a constitutional convention for the revolutionary avant-garde—a congregation in which all interested parties come together for the purpose of demolishing a particular political organization in favor of constituting a new one. However, for the revolutionary avant-garde today, the traditional order of terms must be reversed if the concept is to be truthful. Everywhere one borrows the equations of bourgeois political ideology, they must be turned back on their feet.
It is thus that we should hereby announce our conventional constitution rather than a constitutional convention. The constitutional convention traditionally functions as a sort of engine that is supposed to power a new political society according to variable tempos and rythms with, for instance, the American “separation of powers” functioning as a literal throttle of democratic desire. But the whole charade involves nothing more than instituting or constituting conventions, intended for the behavior and language of others to converge on (as per the philosophical tradition known as conventionalism). The bourgeois ideological formula offers the public the fantastic idea that a society is convening in order to produce a constitution that will govern it, whereas all that happens is a few of the most powerful individuals constitute conventions to be imposed by legal force on a subject population.
Today, where the revolutionary avant-garde in the artistic sphere meets the revolutionary political vanguard in the contemporary global movement to occupy everything, including every last cobwebbed corner of conceptual space, at that precise point of intersection we lay siege to all currently existing bourgeois governments by creatively performing the truth they dissimulate. By truthfully pronouncing in absolute seriousness the current formation of a revolutionary united front through conventional consitution as literally the only legitimate government of the entire globe, we effectively and realistically lay siege to all bourgeois governments currently existing insofar as we literally do exactly what they did, but for the first time in world history we do it transparently and honestly. In this way, doing exactly what they did, but for the first time in human history doing it from the bottom up in an international mass movement, we will literally have them surrounded. And the reason I cannot stress enough that this is truly a real siege and not merely “symbolic,” and that this would truly be sufficient for real, concrete political revolution, is that the siege truly cuts state power off from one of its essential, vital functions, the bureaucratic superegos of its self-policed subjects. The conventional consitution of the revolutionary united front effectively does this because the bureaucratic superego quickly defects when the ego is exposed to contact with true human freedom, which, to put forward a provisional definition, might be something like the consciousness of the nonexistence of restraints.
To better specifiy the real and concrete effectivity of the revolutionary avant-garde in occupying the unpoliced yet unexplored space of contemporary life, the operative causal mechanism is to give the public irresistible performances of true human freedom to which they’re bureaucratic superegos are fatally allergic. The logic of political direct action aims for the same achievement on the political plane. There, activists demonstrate, not least by dramatizing their absurd defecit of power and thus a certain charming and inspiring impossibility or martyrdom called civil disobedience, the fantastic notion that anyone can fight the system. It operates according to a dialectically self-fulfilling prophecy. Their performance is artistic (deceptive) because to truly fight the system would in fact require the participation of everyone in society, but their performance makes it possible for others to believe that anyone can fight the system, thus producing a tendency toward the conditions for which anyone could fight the system (in the sense of being part of everyone fighting the system). And thus we come to understand how the revolutionary avant-garde converges dialectically with the revolutionary vanguard.
In their true forms, the revolutionary artist is a political revolutionary (constituting the first and only legitimate global government in the history of humankind) while the political revolutionary is a revolutionary artist (performing the most beautiful act in the history of humankind, that of the individual who can defeat a whole social system).
I simply cannot stress enough how the theoretical strategy elucidated here cannot be dismissed with the old reality versus theory criticism (which Marx himself helped popularize with respect to interlocutors such as Proudhon) that would say this is giving to the conceptual sphere a pracitical effectivity that is simply delusional. I have elaborated concrete causal mechanisms by which conceptual activity has effects on the level of practical behavior and political developments. These could potentially be wrong, but they require analysis and argumentation from anyone who will claim this is merely highfalutin theory.
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Murphy, Justin. 2011. "On the bureaucratic superego and conventional constitution of siege by joint emancipated forces," https://jmrphy.net/blog/2011/12/20/14513383241/ (September 9, 2018).