Sunday, 18 May 2014

Laclau's Floating signifier, Gamow Peak and Intensity of Struggles

I was reading an article written in Sinhala language regarding political struggles. Some of the main points of the article were based on Ernesto Laclau's' floating signifiers. What Laclau is saying here is this. He is using a picture shown below for this explanation. In here he was trying to present the notion of 'empty signifier' at its purest.

 He took Tsarism (Ts) as an an example for a regime which was oppressive and it was separated by a political frontier from the demands of most sectors of society (D1, D2, D3 ,D4• • • etc.). Each demand is different to all the others in it's  articularity. This particularity is shown in the above diagram by the lower semicircle in the representation of each of them.  However they are all united in their common opposition to the Tsarist oppressive regime.
Laclau claims, this in turn leads to one of the demands stepping in and becoming the signifier of the whole chain - a tendentially empty signifier. He says that the whole model depends on the presence of the dichotomic frontier: without this, the equivalential relation would collapse and the identity of each demand would be
exhausted in its differential particularity. However when  the oppressive regime itself becoming hegemonic then the dichotomic frontier, without disappearing,
becoming blurred i.e trying to interrupt the equivalential chain of the
popular camp by an alternative equivalential chain, in which some of the
popular demands are articulated to entirely different links .

 The same democratic demands receive the structural pressure of rival hegemonic projects in such a case. This generates an autonomy of the popular signifiers different from the earlier ones and its meaning is indeterminate between alternative equivalential frontiers It is no longer that the particularism
of the demand becomes self-sufficient and independent of any equivalential articulation. Laclau call signifiers whose meaning is 'suspended' in that way 'floating signifiers'. Their operation is shown here in this diagram.
I am directly quoting from Laclau here. "As we can see, D1 is submitted to the structural pressure of two antagonistic equivalential chains represented by the dotted lines: the horizontal corresponds to the popular camp opposing Tsarism, as in the first diagram. The diagonal, however, establishes an equivalential link between D' belonging to the popular camp, and two other demands that the latter would oppose as belonging to the camp of Tsarism. So we have two antagonistic ways of constituting the 'people' as a historical actor. The way in which the meaning of DI is going to be fixed will depend on the result of a hegemonic struggle. So the 'floating' dimension becomes most visible in periods of organic crisis, when the symbolic system needs to be radically recast. And, for that reason, that dimension has, as a necessary pattern, the unfixing of the relationship between the two semicircles in the representation of the demands: the upper semicircle is always the one that becomes autonomous in any floating, for it is in its equivalential virtualities that the representation of the (absent) fullness of society lies." - On populist Reason -Ernesto Laclau

Now what we can see is that even though Ernesto Laclau's approach here is correct for the struggles his diagrams do not consider the intensity of struggles. The struggles are not  the same if you consider the intensity of them. They have different intensities. They acted in different ways in different circumstances. Laclau takes example of Tsarism. If we consider the two definitive struggles from the same era, namely in 1905 and in 1917, each of these struggles has different intensities and one which managed better reached the turning point in 1917. (Please see the diagram below.)
Intensity of Struggles On X-Axis Time

In my opinion what is important is not that D1 is becoming floating signifier. Laclau's idea that floating signifier D1's meaning is going to be fixed by the result of a hegemonic struggle is to be understood differently. As the struggle intensifies the leading forces would act differently. There will be obvious two antagonistic forces will be evident. 

If we consider the evolution of the very early universe, primordial nucleosynthesis, star formation or planetary formation, evolutionary history of life we can see the chaotic way it works. We can find the formulas and mathematical equations to explain all these events, transactions, creations but the very fact is that they just happens with different intensity and amid the chaos of things. We only know how to explain them.
If we take a look at what happens inside the stars and nucleosyntheis in stars we find these.
The point that interest me from the article above is this. The particle motion inside stars are very chaotic. They don't happen according to some god's plan or some other pre-determined fashion..  That's why we have to calculate Mean Free Path to find houd how these particles are interacting with each other.
"Mean Free Path- Identical particles travelling through a medium of targets travel different distances before interacting. The average distance they travel prior to reaction is called the mean free path l, and is a useful indicator of the condition of the target medium and the strength of the interaction. - Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis" 

The struggles are happening the same way. We cannot say where and when the struggles will start and what problem or demand would create the particular struggle. We all know that there is this dialectical nature of the struggle between classes. We can  approximate the times and what the percentage of the masses participating in each struggle.  They happen in different intensity and a political entity  which learned the best way to manage the intensity can take the struggle through the potential barrier. (Barrier penetration).

 Let's think about what happened with  Euro Maidan in Ukraine. It started as a small protest against Yanukovych regime. (I am not taking any side here. That's not the idea) . But it was managed so cleverly by the (perhaps US/EU funding, perhaps from the oligarchs which were on their side) money they have received they could mobilise forces outside their reach by any means, propaganda money etc. The media war was managed so cleverly by leading western press and opinion in Europe was swayed protesters way. The intensity of the struggle went up by day when the killing started the struggle was at it's peak.  That was the turning point. We all know what happened after that.

The leftists parties should not intervene in every struggles for democracy. There are certain struggles by the capitalist leaning social democratic parties that leftist parties cannot participate. They can certainly support certain issues to save the democratic freedom and  other struggles which address cost of living, student fees etc. A leftist party should select the struggles they should just participate as a voice of support and select the struggles that they can manage and control separately. They have to use their time and energy to increase the intensity of the struggle and direct it towards abolishing the capitalist system.
Therefore I think it is necessary for a party to have intelligence gathering and analysis unit purely to collect and analyse data on struggles happening in any particular country of their concern. Then they should advice politburo of the party to take necessary action. Through out any struggle this process should carry on and they should maintain the link between each struggles themselves and with the party. They would then easily recognise turning point of any major struggle.

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