The Politics of Evasion: A Post-Globalization Dialogue at the Edge of the State

The book Politics of Evasion struggles with contemporary questions about Socialism and Anarchism in the context of changing logics of state and capital and the false hopes of a return to social democracy.

In the context of burgeoning national security programs; thickening borders; digital activism immigrant rights rallies; Occupy movements; student protests; neoliberal austerity; global financial crises The Politics of Evasion starts by underscoring how much the fable of a hope-filled post-cold war globalization has faded. In its place looms the prospect of states and corporations transforming a permanent war on terror into a permanent war on society. A key set of questions remain for anyone contesting and critical of state and capitalist power: how, at this juncture, are policymakers and power-holders in leading states and corporations of the Global North reframing their pursuit of power and control? What possibilities and limits do activists and communities face for progressive, radical political action to counter this power inside and outside the state?
The Politics of Evasion is a dialogue between a former graduate student and now government official (anonymously identified as Mr. V) of a social democratic orientation and a scholar who in debate with Mr. V links Gramscian and Benjaminian thought in an in-depth consideration of the prospects for a progressive, radical politics that is situated at the juncture of Socialism and Anarchism and where evasion against statist capitalism is explored as a force for creating new forms of, what is termed, re-collectivism.

The Politics of Evasion: Annotated Table of Contents


"New forms of disruption"
Mr. V opens the discussion abruptly with concerns about groups such as Wikileaks and Anonymous; leading into the topics of the NSA/Snowden revelations; private versus public provision on Internet; the power of corporations on the Internet; and their complicity with the national security state - considered with regard to the changes and departures these developments entail as well as an apprehension that the intensification around security since 911 is part of a broader transformation.

"We can label this logic, evasion"
These developments are set against the background of what is entailed in the operation of relatively open communication systems where groups and individuals evade limits in order to confront power; as well as the broader question of what this implies for liberal versus non-liberal orders.

"Bringing risk into the picture"
The forms of evasion and confrontation made possible through open systems can be thought of in terms of the problems of circulation within and across spaces and social systems, as suggested by Foucault, who also viewed these through the lens of risk. The discussion addresses the question of how systems address risk - and Deleuze's control society concept is considered. Mr. V remains concerned whether these formulations can contend with innovation that actually changes the system itself and creates conditions of risk.

"Openness and closure produce one another"

Latham tries to push the discussion beyond risk and safety concerns, to consider how quickly complicated a system becomes that might be considered open; where even within an open system closure is required; where distinct social realms and spaces within the system get demarcated; and where, if there would be no places to transfer between, forms of openness and movement that are possible would have no meaning in the first place. Mr. V explains that this all makes finding security strategies to deal with circulation all the more imperative.

"Deepening security and the possibilities of protest"
Mr. V further underscores that he is concerned not just with mobility in systems but how they are vulnerable to be altered through intervention as a form of disruptive confrontation (for example by hackers). These possibilities and tensions are put in historical context, specifically with regard to the complexities of global security and protest in relation to the formation of communication, public sphere, and commercial infrastructures across the centuries.

"The nature of the target matters"
The schizophrenic nature of US policy toward digital activism is discussed, with regard to what is seen as acceptable and safe or unacceptable and threatening. Comparison to earlier forms of activism is made with the introduction by Mr. V of the notion that today there is a sort of transience, where "threats can come not only from anywhere, or from anybody, but also in forms not yet known or from sources you otherwise might trust."

"The relationship between anonymity and liberalism"
Latham argues, to a skeptical Mr. V, that transience and "coming out of nowhere" is linked to anonymity and ultimately to openness and liberal order. The implications are explored, including how Anonymous and related practice can be placed on the plane of liberal logics along with mass surveillance and the logics of control societies.

"Disorder as an evasive tactic"
After reiterating how openness is an essential part of liberal logics and reconsidering arguments about the attempt to find a balance between liberty and security, Mr. V and Latham engage the notion that autonomous sites of resistance and media are forced to practice what Mr. V calls a sort of self-evasion, a self-limiting practice resulting from the tensions between liberalism's characteristics of openness and closure. Latham brings up the question of whether forms and practices of disorder are important aspects of evasion.

"No pure, angelic form of liberalism"
The discussion turns to the way the spaces liberalism creates for openness, agency, and autonomy can equally create closeness and repression. The necessity for evasion in this context is considered, along with the question of what it means to attempt to advance openness in the face of increasingly security and control. Latham suggests that to probe deeper it is necessary to put the state as a political form in question.


"Between permanence and temporariness"
Picking up, from where the last discussion ended, on the necessity of putting the state into question as a political form, the notion of political time is introduced. More specifically, consideration is given to the ways that the state elevates itself to the status of a permanent political form; and has the power to pronounce as to what else is temporary or permanent. Latham argues this distinction - and temporality more generally - is an important to look at when determining the legitimacy of the state. Mr. V defends the value of state-established permanence regarding justice, rights, and citizenship.

"Enduring and transient structures"
How widespread the contrast of temporariness and permanence is within Western modernity is discussed. Latham explains the precarious nature of temporariness and defends the need to push beyond it, but not by recourse to state-based permanence. While Mr. V maintains that progressive change can come from moving within the context of permanence to improve the enduring frameworks of the state. Consideration is given to groups such as migrants and First Nations in relation to settled citizenry and whether the types of benefits permanence ostensibly offers can be obtained without reliance on a state taken to be permanent.

"A standpoint from which to question the state"
It is established by both Latham and Mr. V that the state as force for permanence has a uniquely long history and has evolved many practices, customs and rules for producing permanence; along with the power to pronounce on the permanence and temporariness of organizations and practices across social and political life. Even corporations, Mr. V argues, do not possess this power. Discussion turns to the question of what it might mean to put the state and its permanence in question, specifically through perspectives such as Anarchism. Latham points to how movements like Anarchism are forced to operate in this world of permanence and temporariness and, more generally, face dilemmas around how to sustain gains in support and organization.

"The melting of all that is solid"
The state, Latham contends, may not be as unique as first thought as a producer of both permanence and temporariness. Institutions such as private property and forces associated with globalization also exhibit this duality. Consideration is given to the relationship between these broader global - and historical - contexts and the state. Mr. V suggests that more fluid and transitory contexts explored by postmoderns may, counter-intuitively, open up the possibility of restoring a progressive, just state. Latham reminds Mr. V that within those broader contexts is located the basis for hyper-security and the neo-liberal state.

"Alongside permanence is the possibility of non-permanence"
Building on the historical contexts laid out in the previous section exploring the establishment of permanence and temporariness, Latham tries to move the discussion outside of the binary of permanent and temporary; seeking to explore its inter-subjective and contingent nature; where permanence can be seen as only a claim, however powerful; and which is subject to being revoked and retrenched, leaving Mr. V's permanent justice at best vulnerable. Meanwhile, Mr. V insists on the rightful dominance of the state as setting the terms for political time; and Latham points to the way others senses of time might matter for political life and putting the state in question.

"Creating new meanings and framings"
In this concluding section the discussion touches on the political issues associated with permanence in an attempt to challenge notions of time and history that underpin the supposedly concrete nature of the state. Latham brings up relevant critical thought such as Nietzsche's concept of the untimely, Walter Benjamin's 'dialectical reversal,' Deleuze and Guattari's 'lines of flight,' and Alain Badiou's "event" - in an attempt to explore ways to organize political time that are alternative to the state. Mr. V insists these alternatives have to have real traction, while Latham counters that gaining greater purchase on the value of alternatives necessitates further discussion of the relationship between political space and the state, which they agree to address next time.


"The desirability of publicness"
Mr. V returns in this meeting concerned with making sure the question of the public realm and authority is made central in any consideration of political space and alternatives. After an exchange on the merits and drawbacks of arguments in the 1990s about the "retreat of the state," Latham addresses V's concerns regarding publicness and argues that the possibilities and limits of public authority are shaped by how the state is present and absent in social space (or "society"). How this also relates to the temporariness and permanence discussed in the last meeting (chapter two) is also discussed.

"The external versus internal divide"
The question of publicness and authority is considered in relation to the divide between the domestic and international realms. Latham insists that there are far more commonalities in what states do across the domestic/international divide than typically assumed; and that gaining some insight into these commonalities can aid our understanding of the dwindling public realm and intensification of security. Mr. V asserts there are very important differences between the domestic and international realm and this difference holds out promise for the remaking of the public-oriented commonwealth.

"A range of interventions and forms of presence"
Continuing with the domestic/international realm theme, Latham contends that one way in to understand both the differences commonalities between these realms is to focus on what states do or don't do - how they are present and absent - in social spaces (both inside and outside of national borders). This can be seen as relevant to states in both the global North and South - a claim that troubles Mr. V. The role of state presence in constituting the public realm is considered. Of particular concern is the ways that, despite publicness, state presence can be very narrow and bounded and vulnerable to withdrawal. Based on observations about presence and absence, the connections between security and neoliberalism are discussed.

"Looking at the interspatial logics of deployment"
Pursuing these connections further, Latham argues, can be aided by focusing on the political infrastructure of the state that makes its presence and absence possible. More specifically, the state is present through the way its agencies, experts, forces, and representatives are deployed in local contexts. These deployments are interspatial in that they involve sending pieces or fragments of an organization from a headquarters or center to another space such as a local community. In this light the potential narrowness and tentativeness (temporariness) of state presence is more visible - along with the links to neoliberalism, hyper-security, and practices of evasion. Mr. V, in contrast, argues that such an approach is reductive and overlooks the reality of the national public realm, along with the possibilities of strengthening it against tendencies toward abandonment of broad commitments to the public good.

"What sort of power comes along with evasion?"
Mr. V charges that the question of power is missing here, which prompts a discussion of the notion of power set against the context and evasion and deployments as considered in the previous section. Latham highlights how power, conceived in negative terms, is not just a matter of control over subjects, but a matter of channeling and bounding where people, discourses and resources are injected into a contained situation for the purposes of reinforcing the flexible and adaptable control mechanisms of neoliberalism.

"The state is a deployment machine"
In this concluding section Mr. V reasserts that there is nothing inevitable about negative power or the neoliberal and anti-public aspects of deployments; nor even that societies are stuck with a political world shaped by deployments. Latham agrees, but also emphasizes that we cannot underestimate the implications of impact of states and corporations distributing their presence, entrenching their power, and ultimately channeling social and political life in ways that empty and level out the so-called democratic project. They agree to focus next time they meet on alternatives that might exist for challenging and transforming these conditions.


"Lapsing into a defeatism"
In this first section we are re-introduced to the debates surrounding the logic of deployment from the previous meeting. Mr. V suggests it might be possible for progressive forces to take control of deployments and use them for the public good. He also argues this potential strategy should be complemented by the work of progressive political networks - national and transnational - and communities and activists congregating in the public square. Latham counters that in the midst of a world of deployments this hope may be displaced.

"Evading deployments"
Latham suggests that one way forward may be to evade deployments and their influences. Whereas, Mr. V is skeptical that, without transforming the entire social and political system, this can succeed. Mr. V insists that control of the political center, the state, is crucial, which in turn is met with skepticism from Latham based on repeated failures of progressive politics in the face of the considerable organizational presence and force of neoliberal capitalism and state hyper-security. Both agree to return to the key conditions that they believe should be kept in mind in identifying alternatives. They discuss the access the forces of neoliberalism and security have to our social and political worlds and how this underlies the abandonment of public and collective life and its replacement with debt, privatization, surveillance, and violence. The section ends with Latham proposing that they probe the question of whether groups and communities get somewhere by evading this access; and with Mr. V claiming this leads either to age-old utopian escapist hopes or to protectionism.

A "progressive politics of evasion"
The discussion turns to whether thinking in terms of the channels - linked previously to deployments - is useful for this strategy of evasion. Latham introduces the concept of 're-collective passage,' to capture this; with passage understood as the social and political pathways leading away, evading in progressive ways, from structures of power (of states and capital) and opening up possibilities for fashioning alternatives. This is distinguished from Deleuze and Guattari's "lines of flight." The term "re-collective" is meant to convey the possibilities of fashioning new collective social forms out of various social histories and resources. Comparisons are made to terms such as public and multitude. Mr. V worries that these terms and forms are just an application of spatial labels to familiar notions of resistance and the pursuit of autonomy.

"Entering a trajectory of transformation"
The attempt, by Latham, to defend the concept of re-collective passage prompts him - after criticism from Mr. V that there's little new here - to distinguish it from more familiar concepts of grass-roots activism, social movements, and prefiguration. More broadly, he argues there is a commonality among those forms of activism - even across the political spectrum - which re-collective passage unites. Consideration is given to the scale of passage, with Latham arguing that it is best to see passage operating at a meso-scale - standing between the micro-scale of individuals and small groups and the macro-scale of whole societies or entire social formations. At the meso-level there is opportunity to transform how societies are organized (such as its border and forms of work). Mr. V is concerned that this abandonment of the macro is yet another bracketing of the political center and the possibilities that electoral politics hold out as a progressive force.

"Leave it up to the people?"
Mr. V continues expressing unease with what Latham is suggesting, especially the notion that passage would be open-ended as to the strategies and tactics chosen by collectivities. He, more generally, pushes Latham to clarify what Mr. V sees as a theoretical black hole of popular self-determination and to specify tangible ways that re-collective passage can and is being used by populations on both sides of the political spectrum to circumvent and/or challenge the structures of power. Latham addresses this through examples like community banking which seeks to deflect the flow of revenues from - and generally evade - financial centers like Wall Street in order to build alternative, local public financial institutions.

"What kind of new collectivities are in play here?"
Despite these explanations Mr. V is troubled by a sense that Latham is going in circles and offering no real ways forward for transformation, even in such areas as the challenging of permanence of great concern to Latham in previous discussion. Latham defends passage by pointing to how these are open efforts that are not operating within the permanence framing of the state. The conversation also addresses scale-up issues: how one moves from distinct passages to wider macro-social and political transformation, which Mr. V. contends rests on a familiar progressive hope for critical mass and widespread mobilization. Latham suggests there are instances of growth and spread of new forms and political contestation as seen even in late 1980s Eastern Europe. They also discuss more contemporary and quite different examples, disputing whether even to include the attempt to found a non-state electronic currency Bitcoin. The section ends with reflection on what Mr. V takes to be the quite real possibility that these passages are very vulnerable to being captured by state and corporate interests.

"Closure is needed to create passages"
Taking up further the issue of vulnerability, the discussion addresses what can be done to limit it and returns to the theme of anonymity and its relation to passage and the possibilities of evading capture. Latham argues that rather than setting anonymity against identity in re-collective passage, it is better to see the tension between anonymity and established identities and histories in far more complex ways; otherwise they might restrict the possibilities of fashioning new social and political forms. Mr. V points to how this, problematically, allows for a wide range of political orientations from Left to Right. He is concerned that the open-endedness of re-collective passage does not contend with the very different Left and Right (e.g. Libertarian) politics that might be drawn up into a passage. Mr. V also suspects that the shielding aspect of passages compromises their relationship to the public realm and limits access to public goods in potentially exclusionary ways. Latham addresses this issue through the example of Squatter movements (regarding access to housing).
Mr. V further challenges Latham by contending that the whole approach is too strategic and does not address the value of principles as realized in human rights.

"The battle within societies over collectivity can't be avoided"
The question of rights and strategy is taken up in greater detail, with Latham arguing that they can operate in tandem and Mr. V arguing that this thinking can lead to undesirable political outcomes such as domination by the religious Right or new meso-level changes like closing borders to migrants. Latham claims that conflict over collective life is a key site of struggle for the Left and Right and the attempt to prevent it means making social and political life closed to new ways of organizing it. He also draws on Gramsci's concept of passive revolution to suggest that some change only reinforces existing order and does not count as re-collective passage. Mr. V insists that this is too risky and that macro principles are required to distinguish progressive from regressive forces. The example of the movement for the Palestinian right of return is raised by Latham as an example of how progressive and regressive forces can be distinguished through the concept of passage.

"Making passage and re-collectivity constitutional logics of the state"
In this concluding section, Mr. V is pushing Latham for tangible "takeaways" and inroads to large-scale changes. Issues taken up include the place of violence in passage, large-scale revolution, and the relationship between radical alternatives and persisting structures of power. Whereas Mr. V sees continued commitments to Anarchistic thinking in Latham's conclusions, Latham counters that we can work with both Anarchism and Statism and obtain inspiration from Gramsci to look to how passage and re-collectivity can become logics that even help organize future forms of the state - on terms that would be quite different than any state we are aware of now; a sort of re-collective state that internalizes passage and re-collectivity.

Robert Latham The Politics of Evasion.pdf1.89 MB