Revolutionary Desire

Thoughts on the Family and Revolution

Posted in Essays by deterritorialization on November 11, 2009
"scorched car in Paris suburb November 2005"

Image credit: Alain Bachellier

During the 2005 riots in France, which I followed every day on Google News, I was quickly radicalizing and starting my last year of high school (I did a book report that year on Lenin’s Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.)  Now, it seems to me that I was not picking up any solid political information during the turmoil. I was left with no grasp of the organizational maneuvers undoubtedly occurring in the midst of the chaos. The tight grip of the union and left bureaucrats has meant that struggles raising a potentially expanding liberation of desire have been forced over their heads. What is particularly striking about 2005 is that it can be seen primarily as a deterritorialization of desire, without losing the critical dimension of its class, national, and racial components. Clearly, the revolts in 2005 were in part struggles of the working-class against daily police repression by the capitalist state. They were also struggles against the racism French stability depends upon. But these struggles were not formulating clear demands. They were quite clearly operating on molecular levels.

Until quite recently, I was unfamiliar with The Coming Insurrection, an anonymous pamphlet inspired by the 2005 unrest. Interestingly, alongside a sweeping critique of psychiatry (clearly bearing the stamp of May 1968 and perhaps of Deleuze and Guattari), the piece also attacks the most insular territoriality of capitalist power: the family.

To step back: Wilhelm Reich had pointed to the family as a factory of ideology, the main source of capitalist indoctrination. Against the orthodox Marxists and the reactionary psychoanalysts, Reich argued for mass sexual politics aimed at weakening the reactionary influence of the family. Reich noted a strong tendency for revolutionary youth to break entirely from their families. If one is a Freudian attempting to synthesize one’s beliefs with revolutionary Marxism, then a break with the family is called for. After all, if we follow Reich and Otto Fenichel (against Freud), the family is the source of the Oedipus complex and castration (and not the inverse). And—how can it be otherwise?— castration must be seen as an ultimately political condition. When psychoanalysis or the family set castration as their aim, they must be condemned.

In some ways, despite the willful ignorance of the organized left, it is not surprising to see such a brilliant insurrectionary pamphlet attack the family. There is, after all, a long history of theory connecting the family to the revolutionary struggle. Feminists of all stripes have helped push this into our preconscious. But what is curious is that the struggle against familial oppression has changed from that waged by Reich. After all, psychoanalysis shows clearly (despite the fact that Reich focused away from the psychic contents of neurosis) the way the parents live on in the child, even beyond their own material lives. They are literally introjected into the child, in the psychoanalytic schema. For Deleuze and Guattari, it is not a matter of introjection, but one of a micropolitics, an internal power struggle occurring in all groups. (And all individuals are groups to Deleuze and Guattari. Even in The Coming Insurrection: “everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack.”) Even inside the “individual,” it is a matter of desiring-production as a flow and the breaks which stop it. Desire and its repression; desire which desires its own repression.

There is already a power struggle going on in the family. To flee from it is to surrender, to refuse one’s capacity to observe its lasting influence in oneself. Revolution requires the struggle to be waged molecularly, on every level, on every front. In Deleuzian/Guattarian terms: every line of flight is also a social investment. Every unleashing of desire (deterritorialization) will also unleash its own repression (reterritorialization). Whenever possible, then, we can follow Lenin’s position on the reactionary trade unions: fight alongside the proletariat in all of its struggles, enter into its mass organizations and attempt to revolutionize them from within. Revolutionaries do not refuse to join reactionary unions and substitute their own. Any organization will act to repress desire; it is a question of struggling against this at every turn. It seems that this logic can be applied quite well—not to mention practically—to the family.

Freedom isn’t the act of shedding our attachments, but the practical capacity to work on them, to move around in their space, to form or dissolve them. The family only exists as a family, that is, as a hell, for those who’ve quit trying to alter its debilitating mechanisms, or don’t know how to. The freedom to uproot oneself has always been a phantasmic freedom. We can’t rid ourselves of what binds us without at the same time losing the very thing to which our forces would be applied. [The Coming Insurrection]

Reich’s questions, then, as to revolutionary parenting practices, are well-placed. These questions are not out of nowhere, and it is coincidence neither that the masses desired answers nor that the Communists had none (the fascists were happy to oblige!). We must fight against the forces of repression on any scale, in any battle. We must recognize that, like and partially encapsulated in the class struggle, this battle is already ongoing.

It’s useless to wait-for a breakthrough, for the revolution, the nuclear apocalypse or a social movement. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides. [The Coming Insurrection]

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