Mind the Dash

The somewhat recent (2012) translation of Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl published by Semiotext(e) seems to be stimulating more conversation than the previous, less achieved, version. (Or at least the discussion is more above-ground and visible, likely due to Ariana Reines’ new translation as well as the wider sweep of Semiotext(e)’s distribution.) At the same time, it feels as though the conversation has barely begun—at least in a written form. It occurred to me to intervene when this piece by Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern appeared in The New Inquiry and was circulated with the customary rapidity by its proponents. Jaleh Mansoor responded to Weigel and Ahern in The Claudius App, in a vein of greater familiarity with Tiqqun, with a decidedly more marxist, perhaps communist, take on the questions they raised. It is a strong piece, and I will acknowledge it in what follows, along with Nina Power’s review in Radical Philosophy, which falls somewhere between the two in its usefulness. Unlike Mansoor, I do not think it is in their oversights that Weigel and Ahern deserve a rejoinder. From an anarchist perspective, at least for those of us who read Tiqqun with tremendous interest (without entirely aligning ourselves with some more or less imagined Tiqqunist position), what is striking about them is just how symptomatic their response is—how much it tells without setting out to be much more than a dismissal, a nice excuse not to read, or not to think about what you didn’t really read. (The dismissal is, it’s true, followed by a weak exhortation. But the exhortation feels tacked on and is unlikely to be the reason their piece made the rounds.)  Weigel and Ahern’s reading of Tiqqun reveals to us their political presuppositions and shortcomings; it also pushes us to make our investment in certain positions consonant with Tiqqun’s more explicit. Anarchist conversations can be different if anarchists are willing to read everything more symptomatically—Weigel and Ahern and Tiqqun, yes, but also our own bodies, our own lives. What follows, then, is not an attempt to defend Tiqqun, much less to show the right way to read them, and more of an outline of what I would like to discuss—a sketch of a conversation some of us are learning to have.

Optical illusion maskOptical illusion mask

To begin, a summary of what is at stake in Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (PM). First, it was included in the first issue of the Tiqqun journal (1999) and then published separately by Mille et une Nuits (2001). Second, there is a clear conceptual linkage between the Theory of Bloom (published in the same issue, and also republished separately) and these Preliminary Materials. Bloom and Young-Girl are figures that appear in both texts (as well as here and there in Tiqqun’s other writings). To enter into this topic I’ll cite an appraisal of Tiqqun for antagonist projects from the recent collection Impasses:

In Theory of Bloom and Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl the critical work proceeds through figures. Bloom and Young-Girl are figures. They are not concepts … they are not demographic designators. They figure social phenomena that emerge in the twentieth century. These social phenomena have to do with forms of experience and subjectivity. When we talk about these in the U.S. way, we usually use the impoverished lexicon of identity politics.

Bloom and Young-Girl are part of what Tiqqun attempted in this journal—to borrow the quaint title of another piece in that issue, a “phenomenology of everyday life.” The aim is to see what is learned if we can describe some aspects of what manifests (what is made to appear) in societies like ours as Bloom, or as Young-Girl. That is what they mean when they write that Young-Girl is a “vision machine” constructed with the aim of “making the [social] battlefield manifest.” The theory of Bloom is developed in a mostly philosophical mode; the materials for the theory of the Young-Girl are gathered as fragments and presented as preliminaries, as if work remains to be done—or must be left incomplete out of some unnamed necessity. I will return to this below. Third, Young-Girl “is obviously not a gendered concept.” I repeat this because it merits repeating; it merits repeating because it has not been understood. Young-Girl, as a figure, allows us to map out and detect ways in which apparatuses of power produce, grasp and model the libidinal sphere in every sense, including those desires which so naturally or culturally seem to cleave into the two-and-then-some of sexual difference or the immediate manyness of genders. Put differently, though the figure is not intended to render gender visible, it does model something about how gender has come to operate, insofar as gender is a crucial aspect of certain forms-of-life well integrated into societies like ours. Our good liberals and bad radicals enjoy saying that once a sexual or gender identity has been claimed or reclaimed by someone, it is, at least to some extent, free of power relations, of domination. We counter that the model (explicit for the liberals, implicit for some radicals) for the value of this recognition is and always has been recognition by the state and the granting of legal and moral rights, of new forms of personhood; that, when it is not the legal model, it is the model of creative consumption, in which I believe I am discovering and expressing my true self as I navigate commodity-space; and concurrently that to expand the field of the normal (i.e. more rights, commodities tailored to what I think are my needs) will never amount to the kind of disruptive liberation we anarchists are after. I will return to this matter as well. Fourth, Bloom and Young-Girl are in a complicated relation of partial resonance with a third text published in Tiqqun 2, Sonogram of a Potential. This piece argues for an “ecstatic feminism” along lines I find congruent with my reading of the Bloom/Young-Girl dyad. I will make passing reference to Sonogram, though I do not mean to absorb it entirely into the theoretical space of the first two. Sonogram deserves its own discussion.

Weigel and Ahern make several symptomatic mistakes, or force several misreadings, concerning the least ambiguous aspects of Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl. The first is that, after an initial reference, they refer to the book as Theory of the Young-Girl. But the book is not The, or ATheory of the Young-Girl. To treat a text that presents itself as preliminaries, outlines, notes, “trash theory”, as a finished product, is to ignore the first and clearest sign its author or authors could give as to how to approach it. This is telling considering the amount of space they devote to inveighing against a supposed irony in PM. It does not seem to me that PM communicates in any single tone, and, if it does, it would be something less ambivalent, such as “hate [of] the Spectacle.” Second mistake: they repeatedly state (and base part of their criticism on the claim) that Tiqqun wrote anonymously. But obviously, Tiqqun did not write anonymously; they wrote in and as Tiqqun. (Inability to distinguish between true anonymity and the use of pseudonyms, heteronyms, shared names such as Tiqqun, and multiple-use names (e.g. Luther Blissett) suggests, again, willful ignorance of the most obvious clues to interpretation.) Weigel and Ahern not only assimilate pseudonymous to anonymous writing, but more strikingly claim that here such practices “abet sexism” (note legalistic language). Mansoor responds appropriately on this point, arguing that pseudonymity and non-attribution of sources are in fact “an attack on the politics of textual propriety, the law of the copyright and of the father.” To which an anarchist might add that it is no surprise that our academics insist on identification of authors and citation of sources, and that we like to write, read, and discuss writing that refuses that insistence.

Weigel and Ahern get one thing quite right: Young-Girl is a figure. But they immediately botch their response by assimilating the figural to the real, as if Young-Girl were an idea, a concept, of actually existing young girls. They are like those who read Anti-Oedipus and get confused or offended when they “realize” that Deleuze and Guattari think psychotics should be shuffled into the place of the revolutionary subject. Or like those who read Nietzsche on the overman and think it is an argument for a genetic homo superior. (To someone who responds to PM  by asking “Wait a minute, how has all the concreteness of the world taken refuge in my ass?”, one might well answer: “Wait a minute, why are you so comfortably identifying with a figure of hyperconsumption?”) What does it mean, then, that Weigel and Ahern fail to mind the dash and so miss what is figural about the figure? It means that they are able to read obtusely, “ontically”, as Nina Power puts it, whenever they need to make the claim that there is sexism or misogyny afoot in PM. The figure loses all of its diagnostic and critical power when it is grasped so crudely. It is not a theory of young girls we are talking about here, so why read it all as though it is about girls or women? It is a satire, in some sense, but not a satire of or about women or girls. It is a satire, or really a détournement with dark satirical effects, about gender and power, about how power works through gender (not just as sexism), about how we cling to gender and so to the power that works through gender. Ariana Reines wrote a fascinating set of notes on her work on PM. Her opinion:

I’d like to point out for the Anglophone reader that although the introduction asserts that the “Young-Girl is evidently not a gendered concept,” and that the term is applicable to young people, gays, and immigrants, French is a gendered language; and that, moreover, the genderedness of French is not the only way to account for the fact that this book, as it accumulates, does become—in some sections more than others—a book about women. With everything biological and constructed the term women signifies. A book about us. It contains passages rife with heterosexist ressentiment and, occasionally, whiffs of (what seemed to me to be) female intellectual rage against the more vapid and conformist members of our sex.

Reines puts her finger on the risk that PM runs, the risk, precisely, of a response like Weigel and Ahern’s: the accusation of garden-variety sexism, or, worse, extreme misogyny. No, it is not a side effect of the French language; it had to run this risk to make its point. No, the possible “female intellectual” did not have to out and name herself to keep the text safe from such accusations; it would have botched precisely what makes it work. (“Tiqqun claims it has lady members…” write Weigel and Ahern. Identify yourselves for proper textual/political evaluation.)

A remark about what makes it work: the reason, I would suggest, that the book is called Preliminary Materials is that so much of it is a collection of détourned texts. (Reines: “You should know that when a passage in the text sounds like a women’s magazine, that’s because it comes from a women’s magazine”). Now, the  practice of détournement was conceived by the Situationists out of desperation, as they were seeking to abolish (among other things) art as a separated sphere of life. Their analysis was that any new creation  (painting, film) would either prefigure, or simply work as raw material for, future commodification—if it did not already and inescapably bear the commodity form. As a response they attempted creations composed of repurposed images or fragments, whose contrast and conflict would not just represent but enact the negativity they felt towards the world. “This combination of parody and seriousness reflects the contradictions of an era in which we find ourselves confronted with both the urgent necessity and the near impossibility of initiating and carrying out a totally innovative collective action” (Situationist International #3, 1959). That is why Weigel and Ahern are wrong to simply describe this part (most) of PM as “Situationist-ish collage.” A collage suggests a fanciful assemblage of images that go well together, like a grade school assignment to make a poster showing what you want to be when you grow up, which assumes the images of your prospective adulthood are already there, waiting for you to shop among them and creatively recombine them. Détournement, however, is primarily negative—it concerns what cannot be said, shown, or felt except by glaring, sometimes violent contrast of text and image. It shows or says that what you want to show or say can’t be shown or said—its negativity arises from the feeling that life is impossible, that you have no way of being who or what you want to be.

So if and to whatever extent this book seems to be about girls or women, those girls or women are to be understood, I would say, along the lines of such a negativity. A future theory of the Young-Girl must pass through the negative reference to woman, girl, femininity, femaleness, all of that, because it follows the articulations and investments of power apparatuses in societies like ours. “The ‘youth’ and ‘femininity’ of the Young-Girl, in fact her youthitude and femininitude, are that through which the control of appearances extends to the discipline of bodies” (PM). Reines’ other main point: sustained work with the text produced in her a disturbing somatization. “I mean it gave me migraines, made me puke; I couldn’t sleep at night, regressed into totally out-of-character sexual behavior.” I imagine this is because it produces its effects precisely by rubbing the most disgusting aspects of our culture of consumption and recuperation in your face—not just citations of sexism or misogyny but terrible evidence of your participation in them, the way that you are capable of embodying the Young-Girl. (Reines’ nausea as a symptom of the unnamed necessity that leaves the materials in a preliminary form.) That is the darkness of its satirical effects, the negativity at work in its détournement.

That said, one could go too far in thinking that the reference to girls or women is all there is to the figure. Does this not also become a book about young people? Yes, because the apparatuses also invest the “youth” of the young, the citizens and consumers of the future, and the unlucky faces of every perverse desire of the now. Why do Weigel and Ahern not discuss the Young- component of Young-Girl? The short answer is that they have a target in mind: the Man-Child (note that, since man-child is hyphenated in ordinary use, this expression elides whether or not it is a figure, the Man-Child, or just man-children here and there who are under discussion—precisely their confusion about the figure of the Young-Girl). To make their point, they must treat PM as an off-balance, sexist critique that requires its balancing answer. Mansour detects the imaginary of equality at work here, and aptly intervenes:

[They] rely on a brand of feminism that takes symmetry for “fairness,” “equity” for “equality,” as though those were not already part of the metrics on which our contemporary social relations are founded. … We are supposed to find our place, as good citizens, in the immense system of equivalence posing as equality. […]

What we need is not a program, especially one of equality when equality in the face of the uneven history, of women under patriarchy and capitalism, has served to subjugate us ever more under false promises of wealth and legal juridical recognition.

Here we could also listen to Sonogram:

There is no equality possible between men and women, nor between men and men or women and women. The smooth surface of abstract arithmetic that forms the basis for the illusion of democracy constantly cracks under the obvious weight of irreducible ethical differences, under the arbitrary nature of elective affinities, under the suspicion that the circulation of power is a question of qualities that become incarnate, that power passes through bodies.

All of which is to say that, while Weigel and Ahern state that Tiqqun’s theory “is at the tail end of a radical tradition that has largely exhausted its usefulness,” we might notice that Tiqqun, in PM and especially Sonogram, set out from an exhaustion or impasse within feminism. The latter text strongly modifies the term with the adjective ecstatic in view of that impasse, while the former bluntly states: “The triumph of the Young-Girl originates in the failure of feminism.”  According to Tiqqun, the more liberal forms of feminism were easily absorbed into social institutions whose basic coercive function was not altered, whereas the more autonomist and radical forms faced the same sociocultural counteroffensive as the entirety of the revolutionary Left (in this sense it is instructive to read Tiqqun’s two histories of the Italian 70s, This is Not a Program and Sonogram, side by side). I’ll briefly add that the attention-grabbing complement to Weigel and Ahern’s (as Mansoor rightly puts it) brand of feminism, the conceit of the Man-Child, is, as a joke, a dud; as criticism, it is limited to the narrow range of dudes in humanities graduate programs (who may well be neurotic and annoying, but aren’t especially the locus of power in a society like ours). What is worst about this preconceived target, and the sloppy reading of PM that Weigel and Ahern seem to need to pass through to get there, is that “his” irony allows them to misconstrue the practice of détournement in PM, which would otherwise have been an obstacle to their literal, ontic reading. And it is in this reading and its easily “actionable” object (the desideratum of “fairness” feminism, which always knows how to act once it finds the inequality to be equalized) that the mild popularity of Weigel and Ahern’s piece lies. Who cares what some obscure group had to say about capitalism and identity? It is complicated and difficult reading. It is easier to denounce man-children—who, let me be perfectly clear, I have no intention of defending.

But some of us anarchists would rather understand what the obscure group had to say about capitalism and processes of identification, even and especially if it troubles such moral and political commonplaces as fairness and equality; even and especially if it risks the thought of the failure of feminism so as to learn a different kind of lesson from its history. Back to the figural, then. The anonymous commentator in Impasses underlines that Bloom and Young-Girl have a mutual source. “For the Young-Girl as for all other Blooms, the craving for entertainment is rooted in anguish” (PM). But Blooms sometimes resist, and part of that resistance may be to write their own theory (said theory is still “of Bloom” in the other sense of the genitive); Young-Girls, by comparison, do not resist; they consume and express themselves, they seduce and are seduced, and so their theory never comes together. For example, Bloom figures a crisis of sexuation, and Young-Girl figures the hypersexuality that is offered as the resolution to that crisis. Asexuals versus the pornosphere… It is in this sense that the figure of the Young-Girl is a diagnostic and critical tool. Its aim is not to represent or replicate a reality whose banalities (including the banality of everyday misogyny) some of us know all too well. Its aim is to allow us to understand the deployment of a particular kind of apparatus that invests the seemingly natural or culturally familiar categories of age and gender as counter-measures to the potential for social disavowal named Bloom. “Young-Girls constitute the most lethal commando THEY have ever maneuvered against heterogeneity, against every hint of desertion” (PM). We begin by cleaving society, along psycho-political lines, into those that resist, flee, or are at least capable of it, and those that do not. We note that the former can become part of the latter; and we note that the categories of age and gender are deployed selectively, qualitatively, as part of that operation.

Two provisional conclusions. First: to discuss the figure of Young-Girl as Weigel and Ahern do—not only ontically, but also apart from its relation to Bloom—is to miss precisely what an antagonist might find useful in it. The writer in Impasses observes that Bloom is a figure of anomie, of anyone’s disinvestment in society and social norms and bonds. This happens first as a seeming alienation, an implosion of the self’s reality:

… Bloom correspond[s] to a sense of being unreal without trusting the path offered back to the real. A first approach to the Young-Girl is to grasp that it is the figure of someone who abandons that sense of unreality in favor of what THEY offer as the path back to the real. Overall this is to be understood as an effect of power, a re-binding to the social real.

This is the Young-Girl as “offensive neutralization apparatus,” according to PM. It is aimed not at everyone, but specifically at Blooms, at what is Bloom in anyone and everyone. “If Bloom’s desire reveals no ultimate truths about oppression or freedom, it does on the other hand permit or prohibit desubjectivation; it increases or diminishes collective potential” (Sonogram). If Bloom is the refusal, sometimes the impossibility of work, look in what company the Young-Girl appears, according to This is Not a Program:

… work also has a more directly militaristic function, which is to subsidize a whole series of forms-of-life-managers, security guards, cops, professors, hipsters, Young-Girls, etc.—all of which are, to say the least, anti­-ecstatic if not anti-insurrectional.

The anon in Impasses comments:

With the figure of Young-Girl we name the two principal contemporary forms of reintegration: identity and consumption as lifestyle. In their closely connected functioning, as identification with the Spectacle, the fundamental ambiguity of Bloom is betrayed, and the plans for exit are botched. The Young-Girl, Tiqqun say, is a model citizen; here citizenship is redefined as an explicit response to the threat of Bloom’s indifference to society.

The apparatus produces the phenomena that are found and figured as Young-Girl. Both aspects, Young- and -Girl, are vectors of commodification and reintegration, working together to generate permanent instability. Gender is part of the operation, but not gender alone. Age may undermine gender, and gender may undermine age. By this I mean that Young-Girl indicates the spurious empowerment of (some) women and (some) youth in societies like ours (the Spectacle’s “praise of femininity” (PM)), and at the same time the way that no position or identity thusly empowered is ever safe or stable. The paths to reintegration may almost always be described as modes of consumption: for young people, to consume what will make them pass as belonging to a world to which they are not yet fully adjusted (making them either mock adults or participants in subcultural pseudo/practice worlds); for women, to consume what will show their proper integration into society (as either an “equal” to men or belonging to a recognizable and recognized political protest ideology or grouping). “Blending into a fatal and complacent intimacy with things has become the mass activity for fetish-compatible Blooms” (Sonogram). The most criminalized, the most persecuted, the most vulnerable in all these games of power are precisely those who do not or can not be reintegrated, because they do not or can not participate in the necessary kind of consumption. Though we may have to fake it for the sake of survival.

Second provisional conclusion: to clearly distinguish between a moralistic, rights-and-recognition based, pro-identification politics and our anti-political alternative would be to rearticulate what is on the lips of so many people, especially young people, these days: that it is not only for seeming to belong to the wrong group that one is put down, shut out, yelled at, chased, beaten, and murdered, but especially for not seeming to belong to any group at all. So say those who today call themselves genderqueer or gender-nonconforming or other phrases that denote not identities but gaps between identities. So say those who for one reason or another are considered less than citizens of the Nation and bad subjects of (normal or other than normal) Sexuality. So say those for whom life in public and in private is lived as an interminable series of sex tests, gender tests, pleasure tests, body tests. One position would ask those of us who feel this way to answer the test questions, to settle on an identity, a name, a social zone, a project of seeking recognition and rights, and to wait for the crumbs to be handed out. Our anti-politics asks what there is left to do to live however we can and however we like, pushing aside every attempt to commodify the way we wear our outsiderness…

The tension is clear. Bloom is the figure of those who escape from identification—their potential rebelliousness, fragility, insanity, dangerousness, and so on. Young-Girl is the figure of those recaptured by identification in a process that makes identification seem liberatory insofar as it appears as their own and not imposed on them. “Reappropriating difference, which meanwhile has become biopower’s primary management tool, is obviously a lost cause” (Sonogram). And if age and gender are at work in this apparatus then what is at stake for us is, indeed, the question of gender. It is also what is glossed over by Weigel and Ahern: the question of youth. Like Mansoor, we are stridently anticapitalist and thus we respond differently to Tiqqun’s critique of social life in societies like ours than Weigel and Ahern. Far from a project of seeking equality or rights, we are driven to observe that almost any affirmation of gender—as natural, as socially constructed, as culturally specific, etc.—may be absorbed by the Young-Girl operation. That does not mean that any given one is or has been; but we are brought to admit that we need ethical criteria where none are to be found. Which is why some of us have been trying to elaborate more clearly (which may simply mean: practically) what the abolition of gender means. And though no one is speaking about the abolition of age, there is also an implicit negativity in our conversations towards the very path of life as it is set out for us. People used to, perhaps still do, talk about the liberation of youth. Some of that is relevant here; but really the issue is that the age category itself makes increasingly less sense to those who have no discernible path to a stable adulthood, and those for whom adulthood can only be envisioned as a “comfortable” slow-motion implosion, for all of us torn from any acquaintance with a biological progression in our own bodies that is not also an awareness of the movement, pulse, gestures of power.

None of this is to say that what are clearly marked as Preliminary Materials for a Theory that, almost fifteen years later, has yet to appear, are sacrosanct or sufficient for an understanding of this tension, this terrain, this power. But it is to say that those who set out to criticize Tiqqun’s text without acknowledging such matters, or chalking them up to the rhetorical hyperbole of radical theory, are assuming precisely the normalcies and normativities that anarchists of our Tiqqun-reading stripe are out to destroy. “Because the only honorable departure from a minority status is not the achievement of recognition by the dominating majority or a change in force relations, but the deconstruction of the whole mechanism of recognition itself and of the idea of victory” (Sonogram). “A communization of bodies is to be expected” (PM).

Anarchy in World Systems

A review of Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long 20th Century (1994, 2nd Edition 2010)


Giovanni Arrighi’s The Long 20th Century is a history of capitalism, and a diachronic contexutalization of the distinguishing features of US dominance in the 20th century. Building on Wallerstein and especially Braudel, Arrighi revises both Marx and world systems theory to define four stages of capitalism, each marked by a systemic cycle of accumulation. Each cycle begins with the rise of a new leading state and form of institutionalized planning that organizes a global accumulation of capital, subtly interrupted by a signal crisis that heralds the switch from industrial to financial expansion, experienced as a golden age that marches inevitably to the terminal crisis when the bubble bursts and a new state (or group of states) must take up the lead in the reorganization of global capital.


Arrighi reaches all the way back to the northern Italian city-states in the epoch just after the Crusades to describe the prefiguration of the “four main features” of the “modern interstate system”. It was the loser, or in any case the weakest, of the most important of these city-states, Genoa, that was pushed out of the trade routes to West Asia, and that turned—unable to rely on its own agrarian ruling class for military backing in its ventures—to Ferdinand and Isabella of Castille to create new opportunities for investment and commerce. The alliance between the merchants of Genoa and the military power of the Spanish state organized and impelled the first global cycle of capital accumulation. The next cycle was led by the new Dutch nation-state, the architect of the interstate system or the “Westphalia system” of territorial nation-states linked in a global economy that in essence remains valid today. The third, or British, cycle of accumulation saw the mechanization of industry and the extension of the world system to every last corner of the globe through aggressive colonization. And the fourth, American cycle of accumulation saw the intensification of accumulation throughout the map laid down by the British, and the creation of the global financial and political institutions that exercise power today.


Rather than making arbitrary characterizations of putatively different stages of history as the basis for analysis, as so many historiographers do, Arrighi relies on historical analysis of competing power structures and on economic data regarding profit margins, liquidity, and the relative prominence of industrial expansion to financial speculation to trace with a convincing precision his schema of a full systemic cycle of accumulation, starting with a long period of material expansion, tipped into financial expansion by a signal crisis, and after a relatively short period of financial expansion, a terminal crisis which marks the end of the cycle, with political and economic power shifting to a new state that has already begun the material expansion that will form the basis for the next cycle. So far, the power of the leading state and the intensity of accumulation have surpassed that of the preceding cycle exponentially, while each cycle comes to fruition in a shorter amount of time (220 years between the signal crises that bracket the first cycle, 180 years for the second cycle, 130 for the third, and 100 years between the signal crisis of the British cycle—the Great Depression of 1873-1896—and the signal crisis of the American cycle, which Arrighi argues was the “oil shock” of 1973). Each transition has also been marked by a war in which the old power’s inability to govern the world system is made manifest, and new ascendant powers compete to assert their hegemony: the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the Second World War. And although Arrighi does not make this point explicit, each transition has also been preceded by a war in which the dominant state is defeated by what will become, many years later, the next dominant state, as in the Dutch rebellion against Spanish rule, the Anglo-Dutch wars, and the American Revolution. Although these wars often appeared to be of secondary importance in their time, their real significance was that the upset allowed a state power to open up and govern a sphere of economic and political autonomy that would eventually serve as a platform from which to launch their own bid for global hegemony.


Arrighi and the theorists he builds on successfully demystify the nature of economic crises and the speculative activities of high finance, which an abundance of commentators today claim to be a new and irresponsible feature of capitalism that bears the blame for the crisis of 2008. They also take apart the narrow view of capitalism that only begins with the industrial revolution and in accordance with free market dogma is distinct from the “protectionist” phase of mercantilism. As regards the history of early capitalism, Arrighi fills in at the macro level what Federici, Rediker, and Linebaugh have been describing at an intermediate level.


Paramount to this revision is Arrighi’s identification, drawing heavily on Braudel, of capitalism as a dichotomous fusion of state and capital. In this view, the State is far more important than a mere “organizing committee” for the bourgeoisie, as Marx and Engels, covetous of a state of their own, would have it.


Contrary to the dominant view, capital as a social force, merchants as its agent, and markets as a place-of-flows in which capital operated, much the same way it does today, all already existed hundreds and even thousands of years ago. This fact:

has troubled world system studies right from the start. Nicole Bousquet (1979: 503) considered it “embarrassing” that price logistics long pre-dated 1500. For the same reason, Albert Bergesen (1983: 78) wondered whether price logistics “represent the dynamics of feudalism, or capitalism, or both.” Even Imperial China seems to have experienced wave-like phenomena of the same kind as Europe” (p.8).


The conventional view in the social sciences, in political discourse, and in the mass media is that capitalism and the market economy are more or less the same thing and that state power is antithetical to both. Braudel, in contrast, sees capitalism as being absolutely dependent for its emergence and expansion on state power and as constituting the antithesis of the market economy” (p.10).


Given the historical and geographic extension of merchant networks, price logistics, and market dynamics well beyond the European beginnings of capitalism (whether in the 18th century or the 15th),

the really important transition that needs to be elucidated is not that from feudalism to capitalism but from scattered to concentrated capitalist power. And the most important aspect of this much neglected transition is the unique fusion of state and capital, which was realized nowhere more favorably for capitalism than in Europe” (p.12).


In essence, merchants who had long been playing a particular game amongst themselves, with exponentially mounting stakes, began to invest their profits in state-making and war-making, not merely as another industry, but as a way to produce an expansion of the field in which their accumulation took place, and to produce the instruments to organize and regulate that field. Simultaneously, ruling elites began to extend their territorialist strategies for the control of the space-of-places in which state competition traditionally took place (the conquering of territory, cities, resources) into the space-of-flows in which the merchants operated (the capturing of markets, trade routes) as a way to fuel the engine of state growth.


Capitalism as an interstate system rests on a dichotomous structure that balances, in ever changing measures, territorialist and capitalist strategies for global power and organization, operating simultaneously in a space-of-places and a space-of-flows. The former strategy uses a territorial power base to capture a greater economic command that is utilized to control more territory, whereas the latter uses an economic command to win territorial resources that serve “the acquisition of additional means of payment”.


Although Arrighi’s analysis and ability to synthesize are indeed razor sharp, if all of this seems like a complex version of something insistently familiar, there’s a reason for that. Arrighi’s model of capitalism and its relationship to the State, although expressed and developed with a frequently Marxist analysis, is nothing if not a precise reiteration of the anti-Marxist thesis that Bakunin put forward (and that history later vindicated) in the 1870s, 120 years before Arrighi went to press. And it doesn’t end there. The proposition that capitalism is antithetical to the market sounds suspiciously reminiscent of Proudhon. And Arrighi’s dialectical model of capitalist powers that tend towards alternating territorialist and then capitalist strategies of accumulation bears a lot in common with Fredy Perlman’s model of Leviathan that constitutes itself now as a worm, now as an octopus. In simpler terms and admittedly less sophistication, and without supporting statistics, Perlman provides (eleven years earlier) a similar analysis. Against Leviathan, however, is much more sweeping than The Long 20th Century, as Perlman recounts the development of civilization going back thousands of years, and despite some factual flaws comes much closer to capturing the spirit of power and accurately describing how it functions, a task at which Arrighi with all his statistics falls woefully short.


Not one of these writers is mentioned in Arrighi’s extensive bibliography. On the whole body of anarchist thought, which in many instances, especially his revisions of Marx, he mimics, Arrighi remains suspiciously silent. In the academic world, some might refer to this as inethical research or even plagiarism. Anarchists would generally respect it as another manifestation of the collective nature of knowledge, except that Arrighi engages in a low blow against anarchist theory even as he obscures its contributions.


Despite hiding it as a theoretical concept, Arrighi gives anarchy an important place in his development of world system studies. He is good enough to differentiate it from “sytemic chaos,” which is the interregnum period in the schema in which one cycle of accumulation has reached its terminal crisis, and though the next cycle of accumulation has already begun, the state power that will organize and direct it has not yet achieved hegemony; it is therefore not clear where power in the world system will be concentrated, nor what set of common rules govern the system.


Arrighi puts anarchy in the corner with more subtle means, making the term essentially meaningless by applying it to both feudalism and the modern interstate system on the grounds that “ “Anarchy” designates “absence of central rule.” ” We all know that Arrighi was bright enough to be aware that “anarchy” in fact designates “the absence of rule”. By not using the linguistically appropriate “polyarchy” to describe a system of multiple, competing, and sometimes overlapping loci of power, Arrighi makes true anarchy inexpressible and therefore semantically impossible within his theoretical framework, at the same time as he erases it as a theoretical body. Conveniently, the only form of resistance or conflict he discusses concern state attempts to forge new configurations of hegemonic power. Arrighi abandons the long discredited materialist superdetermination of historical events, but he reserves all agency in the world system for state actors. The rest of us can only watch and wait.


Since we have brought up the ideological tension between Marxism and anarchism, it seems an appropriate moment to turn to the latest round of misguided predictions about the future.


Arrighi, first publishing in 1994, observed that the cycle of accumulation led by the United States had already experienced the signal crisis that marked a shift to financial expansion and the beginning of the end of its dominance. Noting Japan’s celebrated economic growth, Arrighi predicted that the next global cycle of accumulation would be Japanese.


Here he betrays his Marxian heritage by misunderstanding the nature of power, an unfortunate oversight since such an understanding is implicit in his revisionism and well supported by his data. But he makes capitalists, or even capital, the main protagonists, and states the dependent spouses of this marriage. Another, and somewhat more accurate, way to understand the bilateral relationship he describes from the self-important vantage of capital, is that since the 16th century the State, which has always based its power in the exploitation of a territory—up until then usually a geographic territory and an exploitation that was agricultural and extractive—shifted its activity to a virtual territory, the space-of-flows of the productive economy. The State experienced a great shift from a primarily parasitic existence to a productive one, and the productive logic came to subsume and transform the geographical territory within the system, although always with the backing, and often with the initiative, of the State itself. Neither the market nor capitalists were ever independent pioneers in this movement. The former was never even an actor, simply a space that has been subordinated by an array of apparatuses to capitalist relations. The latter, for their part, often undertook adventures that forced the State’s hand or extended the horizon of State intervention, but they have never been able to maintain virtual territory over time without the subsidization, institutionalization, and policing provided by the State.


How this relates to Japan should be immediately evident. Japan was coming to control a growing share of global capital, moving from its status as an attractive site for international investment to a major investor in its own right, instigating and capturing processes of capital accumulation in southeast Asia and even in the United States. But it lacked every other guarantor to accumulation, not least of all the military capacity to wrest away from the US the ability to dominate global territory and organize the world economy. In real terms not directly measurable by capital flows, Japanese economic growth was predicated on a major US military subsidy (along with export privileges and other more measurable and more documented factors). When push came to shove, the US pulled the plug and the Japanese economy collapsed. With it, Arrighi’s predictions.


Arrighi’s failings—though they do betray the statist bias of leftist thinkers who since Marx have tried to discredit the anarchist idea with underhanded minimizations or naturalizations of the role of the State—are not a sign of sloppy thinking. Arrighi’s synthesis is breathtakingly lucid, immediately useful to explore and apply to the world around us. But we might call on an almost dogmatic anarchist heterodoxy to reject the quest for that holy grail, the unified theory. No theoretical lens can account for every factor at play in a chaotic universe. For example, race and culture find no expression in Arrighi’s model, yet the reluctance of capitalists—a great many of them white—to allow Japan to become the next superpower certainly played a role in that country’s instability. It is a factor of consummate importance that current powerholders would much rather the European Union, for example, to dominate the next cycle of accumulation than an Asian nation (and if it must be an Asian nation, they would probably prefer it to be an ex-colony, a good student like India, then a country like Japan or China that has blazed an independent trail to imperial power).


And though the European Union does currently host a disproportionate number of the world’s largest banks—more than the US, including the number one slot—such a large proportion of capital accumulation is centered on China that Arrighi changed his prediction for the 2004 edition of the book and placed his bets on Beijing.


Within the framework that Arrighi offers, his second prediction remains unconvincing. His reasoning, once again, is based almost exclusively on data regarding investment and capital flows, which unambiguously announce China and southeast Asia as their prefered stomping grounds. Yet he ignores all the state and cultural factors that so often disappoint materialist forecasts (“mere superstructure!”).


China lacks the military capacity to defeat the US, even in its own backyard, southeast Asia. And while the Chinese military is quickly developing the capability to destroy a US fleet in the Pacific, it has no practical chance of doing so while also protecting its home territory. If it can’t even reach Taiwan, how is China supposed to organize the entire world system in the next cycle of accumulation? The only feasible chance that China has of achieving global military superiority in the forseeable future is if a decades long economic crisis eroded the US military (similar to what happened in Russia) without interrupting Chinese economic growth—an unlikely prospect indeed.


Then there are racial and cultural factors. Europeans and Euro-Americans currently control a huge volume of international capital and exert hegemony over the institutions that organize the global economy. Even the most progressive of them would be loath to let power slip away from the good old boys’ club. There is also the fact that Chinese state culture runs roughshod over the liberal sensibilities that the current planners of the world system adhere to. Put simply, the Chinese state has no respect for democracy, human rights, due process, and other bizarre tropes of the Western ruling class, and in very real ways this makes them the class pariah, even though their enviable economic activity grants them the status of popular kid.


To exert hegemony, a state power needs to make itself admired, even if it is also hated, and it needs to train all the other major players to speak its language. And as hypocritical and hollow as it is, the ongoing crusade for democracy is infinitely more convincing than the provincial strongarming of the Communist Party. Even though the US is already fast losing its place as hegemon, it currently faces no rival on the military or cultural level, and therefore, no contender to advance a new set of ruling institutions.


And yet, only a few years remain for a new hegemonic power to arise and inaugurate the next cycle of systemic accumulation and enjoy a couple decades of material expansion before its signal crisis. After that, Arrighi’s beautiful model will have broken down, its patterns no longer valid, only useful in hindsight.


However, there are some facts that Arrighi missed out on that do indicate a way for China to at least be centrally involved in the organization of the next cycle of accumulation. First of all, we have a war between China and the United States that is analogous to the American Revolution or the Anglo-Dutch wars: the Korean War. Although it would not make most historians’ lists of the three most important wars of the 20th century, China’s ability to fight the US to a standstill on the Korean Peninsula marked the beginning of that state’s right to an autonomous sphere of economic and political influence from which to develop its own bid for power.


Another pattern in Arrighi’s model suggests the terrain of material expansion for the next cycle of accumulation, and it isn’t southeast Asia. The Dutch took over the network of accumulation opened up by the Porgtuguese in the East Indies, and they intensified the exploitation thereof. The British subsequently expanded the map of global accumulation. The Americans after them operated within essentially the same map as the British, but they applied new methods of accumulation that allowed for more intense exploitation and a greater concentration of power. Where on earth could capitalism possibly spread to next to allow for a new material expansion? The answer is nowhere.


The next cycle of accumulation, if it is to happen in any way similar to past cycles, will have to expand into outer space. A robotic workforce (resistance free) carrying out mining on asteroids and the moon, and the chemistructural development (pre- or sub-infrastrucutre, the organic basis already existent on earth that makes infrastructure meaningful) of Mars. (A subsequent cycle of accumulation, feasibly, would be based on colonization). Meanwhile, on an earth with new possibilities for green management (statist environmentalism has only ever come at the expense of externalizing impact, and what could be more external to the biosphere?), an expanding consumer society in an ever more capricious service sector and a highly paid design sector (with the private cities of Google and the NSA, perhaps, as the dichotomous model).


This past weekend, China landed a rover on the moon. Anyone who mistakes this for an extremely tardy attempt to keep up with the Jones’ is missing its significance. China has guaranteed itself access to processes of capital accumulation in space. With a space program far cheaper than the US government’s, they have become, last year, the first country to match the US for new satellites in space, and they have also developed killer satellites and other anti-satellite weapons that could destroy all of the expensive little orbiters on which global communications, and the US capacity to deploy military force around the world, across the Pacific for example, depend. With no need to overcome US superiority head-on, just as the Dutch navy and American colonial army often used guerrilla tactics or evasion to confound a superior force, the Chinese have the potential to make US military might meaningless, and the liquid capital to give themselves the advantage in outer space investment.


As higher levels (in this case perhaps literally) of competition require higher levels of collaboration, it is unlikely that terrestrial states, at least in their present form, will find themselves adequately equipped to the task of organizing capital accumulation beyond planet earth. Power structures like Google may prove vital in organizing the new material expansion and also linking the power of terrestrial states to achieve the cultural unification necessary for the regulation and organization of capitalism. After all, the totalitarianism that liberal freedom most requires is not the secret police nor the torture chambers of the Communist Party (although these will never go away, neither in China nor in the US), it is the panopticon society, the apparatuses of communication, the instantaneous imposition of legibility on oral culture, and immediate enclosure of any new commons, that the likes of Google and Apple have already achieved.


If these changes come to pass—and they will to the extent that we allow them to—there will no doubt appear another wave of leftists who claim that it was all an economic operation, that the State has now expired, that capitalism is self-regulating, that the decentralized forms of production that are coming to the fore are the new reality. They willfully forget how much state power continues to concentrate, how the new decentralized industries only function in relation to unprecendented phenomena of concentration, that without drones raining missiles from the sky, there are no iPhones, that without nuclear submarines, there are no satellites, and without the State, whatever its form, there is no capitalism.


The state and capital have joined their destinies, but they are not the only players. Because anarchy is not just another way power organizes itself within a world system, it is an externality inside of that which has no outside, it is a dreamed and immanent reality that promises the destruction of this system. Anarchy is here, with those who reject the models of power, even if we choose to study them. Because above all it comprises the will to make time stop, it is necessarily meaningless to those who are content to chart the quantifiable manifestations of power, while it means everything to those who are dedicated to fighting power in all its forms.