Fortresses are for losers
Conversation with Prof. Gintautas Mazeikis on the notion of ‘radical’ in the context of Lithuania
Based on the programme Radical Reframing Identity & Integration, 2016, Netherlands
A project started in September 2016 in Lithuania: SOCIAL DESIGN SCHEME IN LITHUANIA – THE CASE OF RADICALISM IN SOCIETY
Objective: to start a social design laboratory in Lithuania.
Seminar and laboratory participants: Gabija Pranckėnė VA Caritas ‘Foreigners Integration Programme’ (LT), Ainė Petrulaitytė design researcher (LT/GB), Fanny Sanné Sissoko social designer (GB), Tabo Goudswaard social designer (NL), Tau Ulv Lenskjold design researcher (DK), Paul Gofferjé founder No Academy Laboratory for Art & Society, design lecturer (NL), Jurga Želvytė designer (LT), Dovile Gaižauskiėnė designer (LT), Arturas Bukauskas film/multimedia director (LT), Saulė Norkutė theatre director (LT), Ingrida Palamaitė Transparency International Lithuanian department (LT), Sergejus Muravjovas Transparency International Lithuanian department (LT), Karolis Žibas research fellow, Institute for Ethnic Studies & Diversity group (LT), Gintautas Mažeika philosopher (LT)
Other participants: Linas Butkus deputy director of the Refugee Reception Centre in Rukla Refugees, Eugenijus Lastauskas chief of batallion, Lithuanian armed forces, Eugenijus Sabutis vice mayor of Jonava, Gintas Jasiūlionis head of Rukla parish
One of the results of the seminar: Special Stability Forces (Tabo Goudswaard & Paul Gofferjé)
Conversation with Gintautas Mazeikis and attendees.
Venue: city of Jonava, Armundo restoranas restaurant.
I was asked to speak about a radical from a political philosophy point of view, and I’ll do it on the basis of continental philosophy in the 20th century. The radical is a paradox because the concept signifies two opposing things at the same time. On the one hand, the Latin word ‘radix’ means a root, core, essence. On the other hand, the word ‘radical’ is used today to describe the most marginal groups. So the radical could be the first and last word applied to events, since it denotes the core and the extreme margins at the same time. Groups that are highly extreme and marginal, yet also very active politically or religiously, present themselves as the most essential, and they use the language of roots, soil, blood and long tradition. The situation is now changing because some postmodern political groups, mostly new leftists and various anarchists, have started to describe themselves as rootless, as existing only in a rhizomatic or nomadic way, as existing outside of structural hegemonies. Many of them are followers of the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, but is not necessary. From this point, they break the traditional movement of radicals between the centre and periphery, and open a new horizontal movement of multiplicities. The situation in Lithuania comprises both: radicals of central-periphery movement and a-radicals or post-radicals as new horizontal multiplicities. I am involved in many so-called ‘new left movements’ in Lithuania and other Baltic states, Ukraine, Russia and Central-Eastern Europe. It’s not so easy. They are based on three very different sources: old Marxism-Leninism, Western Marxism, and postmodern and post-structural materialism. Marxism-Leninism was the central idea of Soviet nomenklatura, the ideology of official party bureaucracy, and it opposed any other peripheral or marginal political movement. However, the post-Soviet situation left them marginalized, and old communists moved from the centre to the periphery of power. The situation is especially visible in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Western Marxism was for a long time completely marginal and was discussed mainly among philosophers of the late period of the Soviet Union. However, after the rebuilding of independencies in the Baltic States, Western Marxism and the Frankfurt school of social criticism, the resulting new critical theory formed social and public policy there. Emancipatory ideas of Western Marxism became important in gender studies and in the postcolonial movement, and especially between political-cultural elites in Central-Eastern Europe. However, new social democratic parties were built on the foundations of the old communist parties, a sign of their belief in Marxism-Leninism. The simulation of social policy became significant in many countries of Central-Eastern Europe, including Latvia and Lithuania. In the latter, the old communist party transformed first into the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party, and later into the Social Democrats. The simulacrum titles of new parties hid the political content and purposes. Bureaucratic imitations became the central issue in many social reforms. So the falsifications of Marxism became the grounds for bureaucratic interpretations of society. The simulations and falsifications of Marxism became a matter of understanding what radical politics are in post-Soviet areas. By contrast, the New Left in Lithuania offered a third possibility, which is based on completely new ideas of networking, horizontal and open relationships, trust in minorities, and criticism of any ‘radical’ essentialism and especially of national, religious and capital essentialism.
Developing horizontal ties between social and cultural multiplicities, and growing new local initiatives and local political resistance, international networking demanded new thinking on the nature of social institutions. Imaginary institutions of society were considered by Cornelius Castoriadis, and the idea of self-learning spontaneity was developed on the basis of the ideas of Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt. Free movement of new public institutions, their horizontal ties and the self-government of spontaneous communities are coherent with the ideas of multiplicity and ‘becoming minor’ formulated by Deleuze and Guattari. The new philosophy and new activism helped to shape new art forms, to integrate art and local communities, to understand communities in the real political and creative process.
Self-organizing and self-educating spontaneous communities and their institutions need not only relationships but also autonomy. Autonomism is a very important issue in the growth of social responsibility. The absence of trust characterizes dependent, oppressed and subjugated societies. The real growth of positive freedom is expressed by the idea of autonomism. It was, and is, especially important among post-Soviet countries with a strong inertia of ‘escape from freedom’ (E. Fromm) or a desire to be oppressed and ruled. The new enemy of autonomism is neoliberalism, understood as a conjunction of state power and business corporations. The success of big corporations, as well as local and international oligarchs, is supported by the post-naïve Soviet belief in the care from ‘township-forming enterprises’, which we could call the belief in ‘father-manufactories’. In the Soviet period the communist party and the biggest factories cared for local communities. Such external care created false expectations that new, oligarch factories would care about them as well. All social life and structures of power are based on the promises and hopes of care and a good future. This is the reason why the growth of spontaneity and autonomism, and hence trust and responsibilities, resists neoliberal promises and post-Soviet hopes and pays attention to new social urbanism and social design.
For me, autonomism is when you talk independently and you do everything on your own. To me that would mean total independence. To be autonomous would be something that would be able to function alone, but still be somehow intertwined with others.
You are right. Autonomy doesn’t mean complete independence. An autonomous person can have different relationships and has the right to construct these relationships. I am talking not only about individuals but also about groups or communities. Individual means the person cannot be divided. He is not shared. Georges Bataille showed that social and political sharing was a form of accumulation of social influences. Sharing means that gifting, communicating, talking, teaching, loving and commemorating are conditions of the development of autonomy. The dialectics of autonomy are based on the development of the value of social capital through shearing of attention, gifting (Potlach) of goods, through the being of ‘dividual’ in contrast to being individual. By contrast, individualism is based on the personal accumulation of goods without participatory shearing. Individualism prefers closeness and an absence of relationship. The individualist cares of security and demands growth of surveillance and control; he chooses the alienated provision of goods and negates ‘faces of the care’. Contemporary society is based on the financial and spectacle relationships between alienated individuals and supports the right to self-isolation.
For a very long time, autonomism and dividing had a problem in Lithuania. The Soviet system developed the idea of collectivism: the absence of any autonomy and full dependency on the ideological regime and control. The new capitalism develops individualism, or the absence of social gifting. Autonomism exists only as a marginal or, if you like, radical paradigm in the corporative state society. For example, municipalities and NGOs have very little autonomous power. Contemporary autonomism is not necessarily rootedness. A horizontal network of open and rootless autonomies is even more interesting for us in the nomadic and global contemporary situation.
Do spontaneous and autonomous institutions have equal rights or not?
People would say that not all are equal, because, for example, the municipality might be more important than a union of supermarkets. But this is not correct. From the beginning, all institutions are equal, at least in theory. Horizontal communication between autonomous and spontaneous institutions should be based on the principle of equality of political rights from the beginning. Only later can skills, trust, activism and creativity help to generate more social and political influence.
This means that we need to look at how they correct their power, to look at the way they gain and use their influence. Do institutions use their resources to strengthen their own power, or do they use this energy to create different relationships? You will see that most of them will spend their time and effort on collecting power for themselves.
When we talk about autonomism, it’s not only about criticising the accumulation and distribution of state power. The critic is very important to the making of autonomy. However, more important are self-organizational experiences and self-education of spontaneous groups. They learn the solidarity, the sharing, the communicational reason, the group dynamics, the networking and international activism, the resistance and endurance. Resistance, creativity, organising, networking … and again resistance, creativity, organizing, networking … became the everyday life of autonomous communities.
Normally, when we are talking about autonomism, contemporary philosophy uses the concept of the rhizome. It is a developed system of multiplicity of roots, for example in a spawn. It means that the relationships between groups could be very rhizomatic. Like with mushrooms, there could be huge chaotic networks, and each network is different. Each autonomous group could also establish very different relationships. However, we use the concept of rhizome even without any association with soil or blood, but in urban spaces and virtual spaces (internet). Nomadism, networking and free horizontal ties could be coordinated with the principle of social and cultural autonomy, with the idea of a-radical. However, building an effective horizontal relationship is not simply a social or psychological action. It is not only the neighbourhood or clustering, but the larger problem, and it needs social design.
If we take Krishnaists, anarchists, friends of dogs or cats, members of the Catholic Church,the artistic bohemia, the Nationalist party, different trade unions and so on — they are all very different and don’t have much in common. They don’t have the same roots and they couldn’t be united on the basis of the same foundations. They don’t even have common discourses. But many of them could be involved in some common event, for example in voluntary cleaning an old Jewish cemetery or marking a common city holiday, thus creating a fragment of a common event. The-event oriented policy is based on the principles of action and process and prefers the discourse of social holidays and communal festivals instead of labour and production. The public event policy contradicts the ‘labour animal’ idea and provides for the pursuit of ‘public happiness’ (H. Arendt). It is time-limited communication and doesn’t need any special ideology but rather the rules of games in plays, festivals, in social care and political protest actions. The idea of horizontal networking and events, and sharing of social goodness could be example of social ties limited in time. However, is social design oriented in a horizontal event? Multiplicities of events characterize our Sein und Zeit (Being and Time).
Sharing and horizontal event-based ties could be destroyed by centralized power, which builds circles of influences with the core and periphery and makes a-radical. Centralized power means that some institution is at the centre. It means that instead of distributing relationships, they collect power for themselves and will destroy the principle of equality. Centralized power needs instruments of persuasion, mobilization, ideology, authority and doesn’t need any free and social design or social urban studies. So the model of equal and horizontal autonomies contradicts vertical power and centralization.
What could a municipality do in this case? And what could politics do to support horizontal autonomism? We need the power to destroy centralization and to stop any institution that would like to centralize power. In this sense, we need political power in order to stop political centralization and vertical authoritarianism. The empirical growth of horizontal ties and movement of autonomism, the political demands of autonomous institutions and their political and social responsibility, are conditions of the politics of decentralization.
It sounds like the army that states that we need power to avoid aggression.
Yes, you are right. You need power in order to stop the other power.
We don’t need to build a fortress to stop the power. Even Machiavelli wrote that fortresses are for losers, for those who lost the war because they couldn’t manoeuvre. A fortress means that you close yourself off from everybody inside your own individuality. The metaphors of the fortress prison explain the social structure, which is based on clean corridors, cameras of surveillance, dress codes, strong etiquettes of behaviour, etc. It means that this is like a fanatic desire to collect power but not distribute it or help people create new relationships.
There are many small fortresses between communities and individuals, and we don’t like to stop them. It’s dangerous when politicians build fortresses for themselves and separate themselves from society. They don’t like to appear on the street, meet people and discuss problems. They try to escape from the multiplicity of horizontal ties.
There are a few levels of autonomism. One of them is the different relationships between institutions. The state will never use violence against its own institutions. The state’s institutions compose the circles of centre-periphery and nominate the radicals. We need to compete with such circles of centralized institutions, which like to present themselves in a fundamentalist way.
At the same time, autonomous institutions compose horizontal, open, spontaneous, event-oriented ties. In order to resist centralizing power, they need an umbrella movement, free association. In an umbrella movement, all autonomist groups are not united; there’s no unification or legislation. But the groups participate under the umbrella of common social, cultural and political events. They can always leave this umbrella and return again. An umbrella movement is a free form of social communication and creativity.
Social designers could be very useful within the umbrella movement, because they sometimes create relationships, and it’s important to see the geography, the mapping of relationships between autonomous groups, their interests and communication.
When we talk about autonomous movements, there’s no big problem of radicalism, because open horizontal networks have no centre, no periphery. For example, the SYRIZA movement in Greece, all sorts of people are part of this movement. Getting power through elections means to control authority and centralize tendencies, the closeness of groups and individuals, and a desire to accumulate even more power. Power is used for one reason only: to prevent the accumulation and centralization of power. However, reality is more complicated because SYRIZA’s government exists not only in Greece but between EU countries with strongly centralized powers, but that is another topic.
Gintautas Mazeikis is professor, head of Department of Social and Political Theory at Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, researcher.