Thursday, February 11, 2016

Be Social: Fischbach's Le Sense du Social

Franck Fischbach's Le Sens du Social: Les Puissances de la Coopération continues two of the threads of his recent writings. First, there is an examination of the "socio-political" as an orientation for political philosophy. This is directly opposed to the "ethico-political" in that the former places political economy, or specifically the division of labor at the center, rather than subjectivity or alterity. Second, there is an increasing turn away from Spinoza as a philosopher or theorist of the social and the political and towards Hegel and the return to Hegel in contemporary critical theory. (You can probably guess that I am for the latter and against the former, but such a "hot or not" list says little about why--or what is at stake). 
Fischbach begins his book not by reasserting the primacy of the social, but by attempting a genealogy of its disappearance. He turns to neoliberalism which, as he understands it, should not be understood as opposed to the state, no matter what its adherents claim, but opposed to the social, to any social claim on the individual. The neoliberal political project constructs the market, the market of competing individuals, as opposed to the social. Countering this demands a competing ethos and a competing construction. As Fischbach writes, "So I think that the time has come to show, with respect to the concepts of competition, market, and enterprise, the same hostility that Hayek and others would show with respect to the concept of the social."

Fischbach's genealogy of the social passes through Hegel, Durkheim, and Dewey. At each step along the way his goal is to retrieve the ethic of the social. This ethic begins with Hegel's Philosophy of Right, with the idea of an ethos, an ethic, internal to work itself, one based on cooperation. It is this cooperation which forms the quotidian backdrop of social and political life. Work is the practical formation of the universal. It is exactly at this point, which is to say before we get to Durkheim and Dewey, that one would seem to be reminded of Marx. Fischbach reads Marx's discussion of cooperation in Capital. Concluding that "Capital is an apparatus [dispositif] that makes this cooperative dimension unavailable to its very actors and holders and with this the social significance of their own work." Capital individuates and expropriates cooperation. Not only that but, once having done so, it elevates a particular image of work, isolated and individuated, into its morality and its metaphysics.

Despite Fischbach's recognition of this parasitic isolation he returns to cooperation, it is the title of his book, to see its potential. In doing so he moves both against a trend in critical theory to see work as instrumental, worldless, and a- or anti-political, (Arendt through Honneth), but also against the common, as an outside to work and capital. The goal of politics of an specifically "socialist" politics is to extend the cooperative dimensions of labor against capital. Such a project works both against capital, extending cooperation against privatization, and for democracy, cooperation with others, others who are different, creates the basis for a democracy or a politics that would be something other than the assertion of different individual claims. The social then turns out to be different foundation for the political, more active and plural, than the ethical.

It is at this point that I must part ways with Fischbach, or, more to the point, part ways with Fischbach because I agree with him. His point that the existing social division of labor is in some ways the ground for politics, that the political is founded on the economic not just in terms of interests and agendas, but in terms of the structures and experiences that are the inchoate backdrop of politics, I take to be foundational, axiomatic even. As Balibar writes, giving this axiomatic form,

...the work relation (as a relation of exploitation) is immediately and directly economic and political;  and the form of the “economic community” and the State “spring” simultaneously ( or concurrently) from this “base”...In other words, the relations of the exploitation of labor are both the seed of the market (economic community) and the seed of the state (sovereignty/ Servitude).  Such a thesis may and must seem blunt and debatable when looked at from a static perspective...However, the thesis can become singularly more explanatory if the notion of “determination” is given a strong sense, that is, if it is considered as the conducting wire to analyze the transformational tendencies of the market and the bourgeois State in the past two centuries or, even better, following the best “concrete analysis of Marxism, to analyze the critical conjunctures which punctuate this tendentious transformation and which precipitate its modifications. 

However, I am less confident, and increasingly so, about the cooperative kernel of the capitalist labor process that can be set back on its head (or whatever). This is in part because of the apparatus that Fischbach refers to, an apparatus which includes the technical, political, and ideological transformation of labor into an individual attribute. However, it also includes the division between productive and reproductive labor, the split between the waged and unwaged, which, in Fischbach's sense, can be seen as the social foundation for the political division of gender. To which I would also add, as Fischbach does somewhat, the current strategies which work to destroy any sense of solidarity and collectivity. 

By way of a conclusion it seems to me that the task is not to focus on the prefigurative dimensions of cooperation, seeing that in capital that only needs to be pushed against it, nor on the idea that everything is always already coopted that underlies various negative strategies, but to understand the changing dynamics of cooperation and cooption that underly different types of labor and their organization. In other words, it is a matter of understanding the importance of class composition for politics. 

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