This is a response to a critique of my work appearing on Bunker Magazine 15 April. The author remains anonymous but his or her political identity is quite clear – he or she is firmly based upon what I would term is a more “classical Left” perspective. In the following, I repeat the article in its entirety and give my responses. It’s presented as Anonymous Author (AA), interspersed with responses by me (HF).
AA: Hanzi Freinacht is the main author in the website metamoderna.org. As a disclaimer, this is not an attack on Freinacht as a person, nor is the point to put in doubt his qualifications as a philosopher. This is an attack on his ideology.
HF: Muchly appreciated. I wish the internet was a little more like this – respectful, kind, content focused. Cudos to AA.
AA: Freinacht claims to have discovered Ariadne’s thread, the resolution to the puzzle of overcoming postmodern capitalism, which he tells us consists of “out-competing capitalism”. Capitalism, he tells us, is not to be abolished nor combated, but outperformed. I am unsure if Freinacht is even aware of the irony here: for many years this was the line followed by the USSR during the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, who used it as the ideological justification for reconciliation with the capitalist West and the abandoning of class struggle.
HF: Yes, I am aware of it. That this idea has surfaced before in – quite superficially – similar forms, does not mean that it is today a well-established idea. I challenge AA and any other reader to Google search the phrase “outcompeting capitalism”. What you will find is not only surprisingly few search hits, but that my article on the topic, posted five weeks ago, is the top hit. The internet (and, by extension humanity) is not having this discussion. The idea is not mainstream, in other words.
AA: The idea was that Soviet socialism was then (in the years following de-Stalinization) more efficient than western capitalism, so it would be a mere matter of time for countries (and specially countries just liberating themselves from colonial subordination) to see the superiority of the Soviet system and adopt it. This way, the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union would exponentially increase over time and come to deprive the centers of western capitalism of the resources needed to run their economy, and thus the Soviet Union would win the Cold War without firing a single shot. We know this did not come to pass. This brief history lesson serves to indicate that Freinacht likely did not do his homework. If he is going to make the naive claim of having discovered the way world capitalism will be overcome, he should be prepared to endure the ideological attacks this claim will provoke, both from the left and from the right.
HF: AA’s line of reasoning seems to be that if Soviet socialism failed to outcompete global capitalism, all attempts to do so must inevitably fail. This is of course not a tenable argument. My argument looks very little like that of Khrushchev era doctrines, and the mechanisms proposed are very different. Even the manner and scale of Darwinian competition is different.
AA: Which leads me to my second point: central to Freinacht’s ideology is the creative class being the radical subject that will lead to the overcoming of post-modernity. In Freinacht’s account the creative class is now the main contender fighting for prestige and power against the big bourgeoisie and petite bourgeoisie, and this creative class does so by possessing something that the other ruling classes allegedly don’t have: creative capital. To give a succinct definition we would say that creative capital is -again as understood by Freinacht- the capacity of certain subjects, either because of their charisma, skill or histrionism, to draw the attention of their contemporaries. In Freinacht’s idealist philosophy the mere fact that I take the time to read his blog already makes him the possessor of creative capital. Freinacht however, doesn’t take into consideration that I may take the time to read his blog, understand his philosophy and assimilate his ideas, in order to defeat said ideas. Louis Althusser already gave an account, back in the day, of how philosophy is highly partisan. Philosophy can only be for or against the status quo, there is no middle way. And the same could be said of this “creative capital”, creativity too is partisan.
HF: Good point about attention. In these articles I haven’t presented a more comprehensive theory about the attentionalist economy and its distinctions – so that is well observed. If it were any attention that could be understood as power or capital in any context, this would of course be a silly theory. In that case, the world would probably be ruled by YouPorn and PornHub (which, by the way is not so far from certain antisemitic conspiracy theories on the far Right). We need, of course, a more granular theory of attention, cultural capital, symbols, information and value. Just to mention one feature of such a theory, displayed attention would be more worth than hidden attention. For instance, people will brag about watching Lars von Trier’s very sexually explicit Nympohomaniac, but conceal their porn surfing. So von Trier’s work naturally holds a much higher position in the attentionalist economy. To create things that will stick and define the discourse generally requires a special kind of savvy. As I have argued, this is concentrated around the creative class, but similar skills and social technologies can be found on e.g. the Alt-Right. The central issue here is that cultural capital begins to dominate economic capital and thus shifts the games for power over the construction of social reality.
AA: To conceive that the creative class, will unite as a whole to overthrow the bourgeoisie is idealist. It is more conceivable to see this creative class as embedded in the same old main antagonism in society and as such, can only take the side of either the wretched of the Earth or the oppressors.
HF: I am not quite idealist. I have a “holistic” approach, in that I see material factors, ideas and feelings, cultures, systems and institutions as partly interacting with one another, partly as co-emergent, i.e. that they are different aspects of reality. It is difficult to conceive of a world in which any of these factors can be entirely removed. Speaking of idealism, however, AA him- or herself makes an “idealist” move when he or she assumes that a vague structural collective such as the “creative class” can make a moral “choice”. We of course have to analyze the real economic, cultural and psychological mechanisms of how hippies, hackers and hipsters can become progressive agents in the world.
AA: The quintessential example here would perhaps be no other than Jon Jafari, a.k.a Jontron. As a YouTube celebrity he’s the possessor of this mystical ethereal substance called creative capital, he draws the attention of millions. If Jon Jafari is a part of the vanguard of the creative class that will in time overthrow the bourgeoisie, we’re doomed. When it comes to ideology, Jon Jafari appears, like many YouTube celebrities, to be ambivalently undecided between a Ron Paulian Libertarianism and a confused white nationalism. In other words, Jon Jafari is alt-right. And this matters a lot when talking about the creative class as subject: this creative class can in fact play the role of ideologues of capital, and not even just capital, but the most reactionary, chauvinist elements of the global bourgeoisie, perhaps it is no coincidence that, if we were to run a census on this internet based creative class we will find most of them to be white, urban, and from the global north.
HF: Not really a quintessential example. The best example might perhaps be how the Danish party The Alternative has successfully barged into the center of Danish politics by use of cultural capital. See my earlier post.
AA: Without delving into identity politics we can venture the claim that this global creative class is part of the stratum of the global division of labor that extracts surplus value from the world proletariat. Consider everything that has to be in place for someone to become a member of this creative class: one must be educated, urbanite, presumably having had all their material needs already met (Freinacht concedes as much when he calls this class “postmaterialist”) and “networked”, that is, already in contact with potential sponsors and patrons. Here we see, firmly in place, not just all the obstacles preventing the most radical elements of society even making into this privileged stratum of global society, but the reason why the creative class can never really be a true antagonist to the ruling class, they will always depend on their patronage. This alone should dilapidate the idea of this “creative capital” as ever existing independently from finance capital.
HF: There is of course a developmental dynamics at play here. A postcapitalist society can only flow from postcapitalist values. And postcapitalist values are postmaterialist values. Any socialist or communist project that is ruled by the striving of people to get rich will, at its heart, still be capitalist. It will still be ruled by money capital and its logic. And postmaterialist values show up only the richest, most stable and most progressive parts of the world, like Scandinavia. Denial of this dynamic would lead you back to Khrushchev – trying to build postcapitalist societies on non-postmaterialist values, within capitalist structures. It’s not feasible.
AA: Nor is the creative class, due to its simple lack of know-how, capable of overtaking production and running the factories independently from the bourgeoisie and thus making the bourgeoisie superfluous, as the proletariat in the standard Marxist narrative, in other words the creative class has nothing but its creativity. This makes it incapable of ever becoming a class-for-itself, a radical subject.
HF: The factories are taken over by robots. This creates huge surpluses of financial capital. Global financial capital doesn’t know what to do with itself or where to go. Meaning and social sustainability become the scarcities, rather than material resources. Cultural capital thus begins to rule over financial capital. Those whose interests lie in cultural capital – the creative class and the precariat – begin to organize to defend its interests.
AA: The creative class has two and only two paths ahead for itself, to continue seeking patronage from the moneyed sectors of society, hence continuing to be inherently parasitic, or becoming what in Gramscian accounts is called “organic intellectuals” and siding with the workers and the oppressed, that being the moment in which the creative class is subsumed into the world proletariat at large, this I think, is the only progressive way forward for this so-called class.
HF: Here AA reverts again to the idealism he or she shuns. Any belief that a “class” can make a “choice” is pure idealism in the anti-Marxist sense.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of the upcoming books ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of World History’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.