Politics on the side of the people is a continuation of peace by other means
Can politics on the side of the people be war politics? For us, war was the politics of power, and that was the way we accepted Foucault’s reversal of Clausewitz when he said that politics is, in fact, the continuation of war by other means. But since we are of the opinion that Foucault wrote exclusively about ruling and power, about governance, we are also of the opinion that the politics of power is exclusively the continuation of war by other means – not politics at a distance towards the state, and this is exactly how Sylvain Lazarus thinks of politics in interiority, which he sometimes calls politics on the side of the people.
We’ve published two of his books, so go ahead and read them1. And we’ve also written about it. In the Anthropology of the Name he presents his propositions and carefully explains his position on politics as a specific intellectuality – irreducible to the science of politics, to philosophy, and even to history, although he doesn’t deny that politics can be its material. It is a matter of specific intellectuality and it is approached as such – as thought and as intellectuality – and not as (some or some kind of) a thing; which means that our approach must also be without pretensions to be objective and itself decisive to be considering the real, and that is possible in politics. In other words, our opinion then does not need to be scientific because cognitive objectivity has no place there: politics, as a thought, is approached with political thought.
However, for him there is something which is the politics of power and something that with him we call politics on the side of the people. One and the other are rare and sequential, which means that they do not happen constantly: they are not a constant process or social activity, undertaking, dimension, instance or subsystem of the system of society, as it can be said and thought in sociology or any other science about society and man. Politics is not a theoretical construct.
Therefore, if we understood Foucault as we said we did, and opposed the politics on the side of the people to the politics of power, then for our political thinking the politics on the side of the people could be the continuation of peace by other means. And that it is proves the fact that I dared say it.
And here we are immediately faced with a new problem: why do the means change and what means did Foucault and Clausewitz had in mind?
Many international discussions opened up during these war months, also among anarchists. Some are for participation in the armed conflict in Ukraine, in a resistance Zelensky calls national, while others are for radical anti-militarism and pacifism. Refusal to participate in war seems to some a consistent politics of anarchism – ‘Not war, but class war’. In a more liberal translation, I would say: there is no war without class war, but that is too cynical, because with such an interpretation I invest the desire for war, which is otherwise very popular in philosophical-activist literature, and not for peace, which is however decisive in the slogan: ‘No War But Class War’. Others, on the other hand, think that it is fairer to be realistic and to put oneself in the position of those who are forced to defend themselves with weapons, and those people are not in the mood for cynicism, nor class analysis of a situation in which loved ones die, and not abstract people or agents of relations of production.
One could also speculate about them, which is what happens in the discussions that take place on anarchist portals, but it should be acknowledged that positioning from the point of view of people in action and a concrete, singular situation is not only fairer, but also closer to the real of politics, and its real is possible. The thought-relationship-of-possible is, in our interpretation of the Anthropology of the Name, politics, and that is why we need to inquire, ask and find out what is possible for people in a situation on which we also need to agree together with them how to define. Is it a war, an occupation, an invasion or a special military operation? Yes, it is necessary to agree on words, but these agreements do not take place in debating clubs, but in armed conflicts that have their own local manifestations and not at all safe theoretical landings. The suspension of polysemy, thinking, takes place in situations where people make and must make decisions, but decisions, even when they must be made, are limited to what is possible in a given situation. That skill is not only Bismarck’s, just as politics does not have to be only, as we said, on the side of those in power.
Is the politics of peace possible when someone is dying and is ready to defend oneself?
Whichever way, the conclusion that comes from reading these discussions and thinking the arguments still being exchanged in this ‘friendly fire’ is that reprimanding people why they took up arms is irresponsible even when it’s not rude. But one should also understand the ‘American’ or ‘Western’ anarchists who are for peace at any cost and who, with their every decision and attitude, strive to distance themselves from the military-industrial complex and fight against the decisions of the countries in which they live, which fuel and materially support the war. Because if the people in Ukraine had to take up arms, do we who are not in Ukraine also have to? It would certainly be fairer to join them in the field and to personally take it than to cheer for the armed supply from a safe distance. It is why we need to reconcile the two points of view, and that means stop the mutual accusations. Those who have to defend themselves ask for weapons, and those not in the battle should be against war and armaments if they are not prepared to carry them themselves. And there we are in the core of the problem itself, and the problem is thinking outside the situation. Is it possible and is it for peace, even when it is against arming? Is the politics of peace possible when someone is dying and is ready to defend oneself?
One of the arguments of anti-militarists is that people are forced into war. They do not believe that the people are ready to fight, but that the Ukrainian government forced them to do so. That is why they support deserters and all those who refuse to take up arms. That argument is problematic because others claim that they know the situation on the ground and that it is completely reliable information that people are willing to fight. Who to trust? Well, to those who are on the field, who are there and who speak. But what if these are just the words of those who, like the pacifists miles away from the front lines, are prone to a doctrinal interpretation of everything they see and hear, and therefore ready to give order according to the doctrine they believe in? Obviously, the answer to this question is also political and therefore should be posed politically: is there politics among the spokesmen (informants) who are fighters and can we get involved in it ourselves? At this point, ‘democratic decision-making’ sounds like an inappropriate phrase.
In peacetime, it is easy to say: ‘We are fighting a small battle and we don’t care about losses. We are not afraid of defeat, we distinguish the end of a politics from its defeat and we know that the most important thing is not to give up, regardless of the outcome’. But now, when people are dying and when minority politics is reduced to participating in a war in which there are far stronger and participants who are more armed, not only on the opposite side, but also on the side that is only currently ours (Ukrainian anarchists are aware that they share a front with fascistic, and not just state formations), we can really seem like adventurers. But if we know that we did not lead people to war, but joined them in the fight, then there is no room for doubting our own intentions. There is only fear for one’s own life and it is justified, but not as politics in a state of war and on the front line. That is what is difficult to accept and understand.
Widespread militarism makes every piece of land on this planet an occupied territory.
Another thing that should also be understood, and which is not easy to understand, is that war at a distance is different from the one at the front of which we are now. It’s neither easy to be far from the front and still feel political responsibility. Justifying war from a distance does not sound moral, but is it fighting for war not condemning the militarism of those who are comrades in the wider peace, anti-militaristic and pacifist movement or at least a political allegiance, and are now shooting and killing people even though they are defending themselves? I wouldn’t think so.
The background side of this war is also difficult, because the entire background, not just for the anarchists – who achieve liberation only after a class war – but also for every person who is in favor of politics of peace, is actually located in the occupied territory. Widespread militarism makes every piece of land on this planet an occupied territory. The pro-war mood prevails over the peace-loving one, and for the moral person of the West, being in favor of peace and neutrality now means being either a deserter or a supporter of Putin’s invasion, who is increasingly being compared to Hitler. I get the impression that there are more peace initiatives in Putin’s Russia than in the democratic and liberal world. And that is one paradox that only someone who has experienced the breakup of Yugoslavia and the wars of the nineties can understand. It was far easier to fight for peace in Milošević’s Serbia than in Croatia, Bosnia or in Kosovo, where peace meant cooperation with the occupier and not with the people fighting for freedom and independence.
War is obviously such a state of a situation that transcends national borders. However, this does not mean it appears in the same form and with the same power in its core in every place we can find ourselves. Because what do we really think about deserters when we have something against them? Deserters are those who leave people in the lurch – those people who have decided to defend themselves. But are those the same deserters we have in Russia today? The complications continue and deepen: what is the relationship among the people at the front and through the lines of resistance and defense, and what is it like in the ‘background’, that is, in the territory where the occupying army is mobilizing us? What’s going on there?
Rumors according to which the civilian population is being held hostage by the Ukrainian liberators are not incomprehensible, but are they really true? Precisely in this the importance of this situation would be reflected: if they are not true, it is really a sign that it is a historical, that is, a political event, since we consider it so normal for the army to hold civilians as hostages, no matter which side of the war we are on – on the offensive or defensive. It is what can amaze and encourage us with good reason: a sincere and dedicated, enthusiastic resistance in a time when we are all conformists and prone to surrender is possible.
Politics of power is the continuation of war by law (law and norm), and politics on the side of the people is not the continuation of peace with weapons.
That is why it’s necessary to always ask over and over again: What does it mean to be a deserter? Is it something honorable like during the Vietnam War? Is it resistance to occupation mobilization? Or is it cowardice and abandonment of the position where people are left in the lurch? No matter how difficult, the situation on the ground is somewhat clear: Russian and Belarusian activists (militants) avoid military service, while Ukrainians accept it. It is the force of division into just and unjust struggle. But how to avoid the traps of propaganda and moralism which can develop in a righteous struggle? Only through political engagement.
And to conclude. Politics of power is the continuation of war by law (law and norm), and politics on the side of the people is not the continuation of peace with weapons. Weapons are not the means Foucault and Clausewitz talk about. A weapon is a tool for killing and the dispositive in which it can be found are different, but in one thing the same: weapons serve to kill, and war is not the only dispositive for killing (war machine). The means of politics is solidarity. When peace is called into question, the means on the side of the people is solidarity, and if war is what calls it into question, then resistance is the place of solidarity or politics on the side of the people – politics as a continuation of peace by other means. And then, if the instrument of war is a weapon – and is not the only one – then the instrument of peace must also be a weapon – and it becomes the first.
Translation to English: Ivana Purtic
1Sylvain Lazarus, Antropologija imena (translation to Serbo-Croatian of the Anthropologie du Nom), Group for Conceptual Politics & kuda.org, Novi Sad, 2013.; Hronologije sadašnjosti (Chronologies du Présent), GCP, 2020.
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