Financial institutions TISE from Poland and Fund 05 are offering the possibility to gain a bridging loan for the projects financed from the public finances of the EU. These loans are offered to non-governmental organisations, social entrepreneurs, public institutes, and all other legal entities who have a valid contract for project implementation. The insurance of the loan in the form of a guarantee, mortgage, or cession is not needed; the payment of the premium into the Guarantee Fund 05 is sufficient.
(Excerpt from an e-newsletter of CNVOS – Centre for informing, cooperation and development of NGOs in Slovenia, accessible at their webpage on 26 Nov 2012.)
This unabashedly frank commercial of a financial merchandiser distributed through the local NGO network beautifully exemplifies the reality of parasitizing of the loan-based financial speculators on the supposedly public money of the European Union, i.e. the funds that are purposed to co-finance non-profit-based activities, social affairs, employment, education, or alternative culture. Obtaining EU funding is dependent on the financial stability of applicants—in other words, on their wealth—which means that these funds are more easily accessible to those who already have a proper financial history. All others have to take a loan, which is only possible if they are able to meet loan-giver conditions. In which case, they start generating the easy earnings of camouflaged philanthropists who will, in this very case, charge them with a 7 percent interest rate.
A further example that illustrates the subject of this text is also a local one. Some unofficial sources recently report that the increasingly neoliberal state of Slovenia in its more-or-less-hidden strategies is about to announce the change of the mechanism of financing of the program-based contents executed by non-profit organisations from the field of culture. Namely, the state intends to remunerate subventions retroactively, i.e. after the funds are spent, which means that most of these (non-profit) organisations would have to take loans in order to start and realise projects that are officially in the public interest.
Such cases were already noticed several years ago in cases of non-profit organisations who carried projects financed by the European Social Fund (see a post on that subject). Even more absurdly, these projects were to do with training, education, and the employment of vulnerable social groups in the field of culture, such as immigrants and persons with disabilities.
These examples well illustrate the relations of power and the condition of debt that I will try to think hereinafter, in order to co-relate elaborating of the phenomenon of debt by post-Marxist activist and theoretician Maurizio Lazzarato, and the representational connotations of Saša Rakef’s theatre performance based on personal experience of indebtedness of a typical ‘multipractic precarious worker’. Through this co-relation, I would like to open a perspective toward the specific aesthetic dimension of debt, which turns into a schizophrenic condition of exploitation through financial means of contemporary authoritarianism, but also to seek within it possible chances of developing and further emancipatory politics.
Indebted = Subordinated. Debt as an Apparatus of (contemporary) Slavery
(This section of text is based on article The Debt as an Apparatus of Slavery.) Maurizio Lazzarato claims that he wrote his book La fabrique de l’homme endetté /The Making of the Indebted Man quickly in order to heal himself. He has been observing the concept of debt for a long time, from 1962 on, in the first place via the theoretical apparatus of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. He excerpted certain emphases from their writing—for instance, the fact that debt has been present for a thousand years before the problem of exchange,—also in light of Deleuze’s rethinking of Nietzsche’s theory, claiming that as “the pain of the debtor is internalised, the responsibility for the debt becomes sense of guilt” (Lazzarato, 85). Together with the Marxist theory of money, these knowledges are joined into two hypotheses: the first one claims that the social paradigm does not result from exchange, but from debt; and the second one claims that debt is an economic relation firmly connected with the production of the debt-subject and his ‘morality’.
Economics and ‘ethics’ work together from that point on. The stress that should be remembered is on the fact that the class struggle (currently) occurring in Europe is spread around debt, as was largely the case in other parts of the world in the past. Here it is good to recall that debt is one of contemporary sophisticated ways of money manipulation that reminds on artificially created inflation or big American depression. Such mechanisms were/are in fact in service of depletion/extracting money from the population. Loan and debt are, for Lazzarato, one and the same thing; it is only a matter of perspective on which side of the thing you are, or, as he notes, it is about the question if your time could be expanded.
The creditor-debtor relation does not discriminate between workers and the jobless, consumers and producers, active and non-active ones, etc. Everybody is a ‘debtor’. In this regard, he sees the American university as an “ideal neoliberal society”; as a perfect metaphor of neoliberalism. University studies in general are more a matter of indebtedness than a matter of a right to choose and get a free university education.
Since the debt is converted into valuable papers (i.e., bonds) that circulate on the market, it is more influential than ever before. Loans influence subjectivity, establishing a new form of control that is different from the one that prevailed in post-Fordism. The control is actually performed by an individual who in any case must take care of loan repaying. If you have a loan, Lazzarato claims, that is exactly for the reason that you are controlled. Troubles of neoliberal condition and continuous hiding of its more-or-less obvious basic drive—exploitation of the relation of creditor-debtor that Lazzarato names the governance of debt—are written in both leftist and rightist language of authoritarian manipulation: “Governance of debt is presented as a power which is not implemented neither through repression nor through ideology: the debtor is ‘free’, but his/her acts and behaviours must stay in the frames defined by the signed debt” (35).
The debt is therefore to be understood as a fundamental social relation. The debt is socialised, while the profit is privatised. The debt generates precarization and at the same time performs an up-to-date form of surveillance (linking to Foucault’s concept of biopolitics).
The fact that Lazzarato is not only a sociologist and a philosopher but also an activist is evident in many places within his book. By adding to it the subtitle An Essay on Neoliberal Condition, he clearly specifies capitalism as a complex mechanism of exploitation, unfolding the problem of debt in a close relation with the current crisis, which in no way promises a re-reformation of the system, but rather indicates a direction toward its urgent abolition.
This author’s commitment to radical social changes is undoubtedly related to his personal situation. Namely, his rebellion activities within the Autonomia Operaia movement based in Genova led to his decision to move to Paris in the 1970s. However, in France he has not been fully accepted into academic circles, but works and lives there mostly as an independent researcher, dealing with issues of immaterial labour, working force, ontology of work, the precariat, cognitive capitalism, biopolitics, social movements, activism and art.
To understand The Making of the Indebted Man one needs to delve further into the creditor-debtor relationship. That specific and very widely spread relation somehow reminds of the relation between the global North and the global South. The ‘indebted man’ is someone who has made a ‘mistake’, i.e. the debt must be repaid to redeem this act.
After the first big expropriation conducted between 1980 and 2000, we are facing the period of the second big expropriation. The property/ownership itself should be inspected to identify how huge and absurd the inequality is between people and how incredible the differences are in terms of quantity of wealth that the rich minority is drowning in, while the precarious majority—the contemporary working class—is sinking into increasingly bigger and bigger debts. The question of property is therefore key question in neoliberal capitalism, as the very relation of creditor-debtor reflects the power relation between owners and non-owners of capital.
Increasing the differences between property amounts is the result of the second expropriation operated in the first place through suitable taxation policies. They are an important part of plundering apparatuses as Deleuze and Guattari also elaborate in their book A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (from 1980). If the main issue in Fordism was the profit and in neoliberalism the rent, it is all about taxes and so-called fiscal policy in today’s ‘crisis’. Tax makes it possible to support the first and second head of the three-headed apparatus: profit-rent-taxes. Consequently, we are now facing the rule of corrupted technical governments—some kind of fiscal governance—that are rapidly introducing radical austerity measures to public services, social affairs, education system, healthcare, research, child care, support for the unemployed, disabled and mentally handicapped, etc.
They are doing so for the very harsh fact: capitalism is not successful in its predation or producing promise of wealth anymore, as was the case in the past. Capitalists are therefore plundering the social wealth. In order to achieve this, they have had to abolish capitalist democracy—which, according to Lazzarato, began happening in European countries in 2007. Since then, the decisions have been mainly made by Troika (consisted of European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund), various stock exchanges, and strange financial institutions, such as private rating agencies. For instance, in Italy, parties are practically abolished; instead of government, there is an executive board of citizens. The referendum was cancelled in Greece as a result of pressure by the reigning duo Sarkozy-Merkel. What follows and what we are witnessing is increasing authoritarian mode that will last for a long time, in Lazzarato’s opinion.
The problem is at the first place in the debts that would not be possible to pay off. Lazzarato is unable to predict what is going to happen in relation to that crisis situation. Nevertheless, it is quite evident that the end of the capitalist welfare state goes hand in hand with the end of the system of representative democracy. Capitalism is promising regression and at the same time—as expected—falling into explicit authoritarianism.
It is more and more obvious that the EU’s periphery, as in case of Slovenia, faces and practices increasingly repressive ways of management of the current system of inequality and attempts to suppress various resistances. Across Europe and further afield, we are facing the fact that differences between so-called leftist and rightist representative options are minor—in conceptual sense it is only about two even not so different aesthetics of the fatamorgana of democracy. Lazzarato notes that these differences are “infra-super-small”, refusing the demagogy of governors who are telling us to forget democracy until the return of the economic growth.
The end of the social state or welfare state does not mean the end of state sovereignty at all; as Lazzarato states, the “welfare state is being transformed from an instrument of reformism of capital to a means of establishing authoritarian regimes” (138–39). The state is continuously withdrawing and disappearing in terms of its public and social functions, while at the same time staying completely sovereign upon its inhabitants, which is a brainchild being implemented now, especially in Germany. The state should have been re-established there, but at the expense of public rights redesigned by economy. The state thus has become economic state.
At the same time, the Euro has become the money influenced particularly by German financial centres, writes Lazzarato, attributing that to the so-called ordoliberals. In the 1950s, they introduced and raised the role of German state in regard to establishing conditions for the smooth operation of the free market by providing a kind of social market economy. Five decades later, the new currency, i.e. money, has established a European managerial area via economy. The state maximised in favour of liberals. Such conditions have escalated to such a degree that any reformism is not possible any more. The crisis is impossible to solve through a potential reformist approach; also and above all because we lost classic reference of the class struggle, therefore we cannot perform it from that point of view.
Where do you see possibilities for a turn i.e. for the urgently needed re-appropriation was the question that I asked Lazzarato during his lecture held in Ljubljana in October 2012 /organised by Maska, took place in Theatre Glej; an audio recording of the lecture held in French (approached 19 Dec 2019)/; do you perhaps see a chance in some sort of conversion of the crisis of representation, representative democracy, in favour of the exploited? His answer swivelled around a proposal that pretty much results from the horizontal democratic praxes of emancipatory social movements. Like many activists, he believes that we should invent a transversal organisation, just as capitalism itself is ordered transversally. A new tool should be invented that crosses multiple capitalist quandaries and exploitations. To do that, one should take enough time and practice political experiments, i.e. processes, such as movements of Indignados and Occupy.
Let’s take a look at some basic postulations made by Lazzarato in relation to debt. That debt is first and foremost before exchange, in his opinion, is anthropologically indisputable. The creditor-debtor relationship has never been well investigated; therefore it deserves more attention and rethinking. Today we are facing differences on the level of indebtedness regarding to colonial past of various entities. Southern countries have a higher level of debt than northern ones, as almost all inhabitants are indebted, if not personally then via the so-called public debt. The problem is the very surplus value, and, in particular, the fact that we do not know how or are not able to block the financial (unlike industrial) capitalism in an efficient way.
A more substantive (core) social change could be based on a modified understanding of the concept of production. Production is now mostly based on production of surpluses, i.e., exploitation. The biggest change during the transition to neoliberalism was the privatisation of money, for banks gradually gained jurisdiction from states to issue money. That key transfer of power to the private hands opened the door to ever-increasing pillaging. For, capitalism works while it is able to pillage, and it stops as soon as it fails to do that.
However, capitalism today sees no predictable opportunity to keep increasing value—of money. Therefore, changes should be made upon the whole connection line between concepts of money, taxes, and democracy, taking into account that the capital-labour relation is not the central one. As an appropriate response to that condition, Lazzarato, in the first place, suggests solidarity to be set beyond the state. In other words, the combination or junction of two moralities should be broken—the morality of debt and the morality of consumption-enjoyment, the alliance that he illustrated by media phenomenon of TV-journal followed by commercials (in many European countries TV-journal is traditional form of presenting daily news in about 30 minutes broadcast, usually between 19.00 and 20.00). And to link to that notion: just interrupting the connection is not enough, but the interruption will be enough to open a space of possibilities in a process of socialisation of desires, needs, rights and intelligences.
As observed by Lazzarato in the middle of The Making of the Indebted Man, capitalism is not a structure or a system, but instead, a work-in-progress, since it is continuously being reconstructed, reorganised, and adapted to imperatives of exploiting and governance. The power of capitalism is therefore being constantly updated and is still in construction: “Governance has produced a collective capitalist, the one not concentrated in finances, but working transversally in companies, administration, services, political parties, media, at university” (117).
This transversal operation of capitalist is provided by the universal language of development, managing, and methods, i.e., the same politics of governance exists everywhere. Capitalism actually hides the fact that money works in two basically different manners: as income and as capital. As income, it is a means of payment used to buy a variety of goods that could be fairly easily obtained without money, if only the payment was not imposed by the capitalist production itself; which consequently only reproduces already established relations of power and ways of subordinating. Money as capital works in the sense of financing—as credit money and virtual financial money. The last makes decisions about future productions, goods, and relations of power, i.e., about the subordinated who supports such relations. In that sense, money as capital pre-buys the future.
Lazzarato assumes a potential error in the neoliberal way of thinking, and proposes an active approach by debtors: “Who will pay the mountains of debt accumulated because of saving the banks and the system of governance of debt economy? The answer of the neoliberal bloc of power is clear. Yet it is only a strategy of neoliberal wizard’s apprentices that could potentially make things running out of their control!” (124) The power of debt should therefore be reverted: “Contrary to the consensual theory of ‘society of risk’ as a rhetoric of contemporary capitalism, the only way to block and invert—not ‘risks of financialisation’ but—the destructive power of debt is through the debtors’ capability of action and collective thought.” (170–71).
Besides the very request for abolishing the debts, which is the first condition of refusal of debtors’ slavery, it is therefore needed to actively think of re-appropriating the common/public, i.e., work on empowering the people within non-submissive ways of production. Lazzarato’s (discussable) proposal is that the institutions and structures of power should be enforced to “self-reflect” by the means of struggle that divides society, meaning breaking with the existing consensuses of inequality. Namely, the debt reflects the anti-production logic of today’s capitalism being expressed through the policy of widespread indebtedness that perpetuates current condition. Or, the debt itself is anti-production. And such a kind of destructive anti-production leads directly into totalitarianism, poverty, and social desert of American type, as it efficiently destroys social ties, free research, creative expression and thinking.
The whole of Europe (at least) is in the middle of this devastating process. In Slovenia, for instance, the expression of an angry but clearly articulated answer of the emancipatory social movements to that process in the streets has sounded like this slogan: “We don’t discriminate—you are all done!” People simply do not accept paying debts imposed by the governance of corrupted elites who brought them to the edge of poverty, which simply means that they strongly resist virtually democratic representative system that ended up as rapidly increasing exploiting.
Against the Precarity of art production by the Means of art production. The paradox of Here-Now
I am Rakef Saška
I am RS
I am the debt
I am the flexible concept
the set of premises and rules
prostitute repaying her father’s debt
I am status-symbol
I am served by lackeys in liveries
I am Madagascar, Bolivia, Philippines, Haiti
I am a synonym for poverty and human misery
I am the money spent for the military
I am the remuneration of expenses of pacification, modernization, Swiss accounts
of railways, motorways, bridges
of democratic representation, social state
health service, education, culture
I am a seizure of real estates, vineyards, sheep
children sold into slavery
I am written into history of states and empires
I play central role around the question what is right and what is wrong
what is mine is not mine indeed
(Excerpt from the announcement for the performance analysed hereinafter. Translated by N. Jelesijević. Source: Maska’s webpage, approached 31 May 2013).
In the performance entitled The Debt of Rakef Saška / The Debt of RS performer Saška Rakef uses these lines based on her intimate situation of being indebted and at the same time working and living in the highly precarious situation of being a self-employed cultural worker, in order to develop a specific performative tension. She performs while seated on stage, like one would in an office, mainly through speaking, using two microphones and few ordinary props—somehow recalling the atmosphere of a radio broadcast. ‘RS’ are both artist’s name initials and an official abbreviation for Republic of Slovenia. The performance was a part of promotion of Slovene translation of Lazzarato’s book La fabrique de l’homme endetté, together with his lecture and a round table.
The performance’s background story is based on the real-life circumstance of transferring the debt of a family member to herself, according to a valid legal procedure in Slovenia. The burden of the debt is great, considering Rakef’s living expenses and her meagre pay that she receives from various underpaid jobs, following the decision to keep working in the field of culture, yet not being a star-artist, obviously. Multiple questions and notions are raised through her performance; from a basic rethinking of the (local) art field to the more complex facing of a real precarious condition on stage: the flesh and blood of an indebted person almost on the edge of a nervous breakdown as a result of her indebtedness (in real life).
The indebtedness that, in this case, is documented rather than represented through the performance, extends from reality to the usually supposed surreality, parallel reality or sublimity, of the stage. The stage event therefore does not allow any ‘contemplation’ while following performers long speeches filled with a huge processual counting, neverending calculating, lucid comparing, and accurate converting of amounts and numbers.
Art is here almost as real as it could possibly be, if not even more real than reality itself; for reality somehow does not ‘allow’ the problem of indebtedness—alike many other social problems—to be revealed. Exposing the personal indebtedness with all the facts, emotional conditions, and political connotations that follows it makes the very stage—as a place of the performance—turn into an everyday place/space of potential exchange, communication, and, nevertheless, action.
Persistent question about how to address the audience without really addressing it appears here in all its greatness. It is true that the performer reveals her frustrations, pain, humour, and fear of the uncertain future and present. However, at some point, this situation turns into a status quo. Being introduced to the cruel unfairness of the performer’s personal condition (which could be understand as a typical/universal one), we (as the audience) are left with these thoughts in mind, obviously in order to process them. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that usual theatrical approach, however, thinking of performance as an emancipatory act of rupture in the usual order, the question that it raises here—as in many other cases like this—is, what is to be done with the conceptual/structural border that emerges between audience and artist?
How to actually not address the audience, but rather to abolish it, by setting the performance beyond the frame of production-representation pair? But is it sensible to request that from the performer if she/he is really indebted and therefore uncertain in her/his everyday fears conditioned by indebtedness? To be clear, any request on this level is certainly redundant, so it is not a question of a request as such, but it is a question of possibilities, options and, why not, expectations. Yet, to answer the question in another way, the performer in this specific case earns her artist fee for performing, while sharing her personal experience with the public. At the same time, there is a high probability that many members of the audience are indebted, too. Still, this chain of individual indebtednesses is missing a link, i.e., an interchange in (performance of) solidarity, in possible (performance of) resistance.
Some of the main aesthetic qualities of indebtedness as a personal and social condition are isolation, loneliness, atomisation. One takes care of one’s own future conditioned/controlled by one’s own debt. By training governed ones to promise payment of their debts, capitalism possesses their future in advance. Time is objectivised, controlled in advance, which means that all possibilities of making choices and decisions hidden in the future are subordinated to the reproduction of capitalistic ratios of power (cf. 50). Following the performative potential of an emancipatory act of rupture in the usual order, it seems that precisely the aesthetic of atomisation is the one to be broken, de-tabooed, through the process of performance as a happening that goes beyond/through the artist-audience structure, that allows multiple entrances and exits, and switches of the roles of all protagonists present at a time in the performance-space—which is relativised again and again.
The paradox of here-now that can be seen/feeled by taking part in Rakef’s performance, tending to reach out from the present precarity of art production, somehow suggests to us that the production-representation pair is analogous to the capital-labour pair mentioned above. Art production as an obvious process and result of an invested amount of labour in order to make an artwork is an important heritage of modernity, being devalued in neoliberalism, which started to emphasise the high importance of presentation following the critical switch from artist-producer to curator-manager agenda. Institutions of the art system turn from supporting production (and at the same time controlling it) to simply capturing it, or, they switched to massive labour outsourcing, giving priority to presentational techniques, looks, marketing strategies, touristification.
(Re)presentation has to do a lot with capital, as it turns out to be its symbolic upgrade, a symbolic capital of an object given a power by an instance of governance (in general, from an art-related or other type of institution), and could also be interrelated to the phenomenon of objectivisation of time. This joint venture somehow once again exposes the fact that art operates with power and vice versa. On the other hand, in the performance in question, it seems as we are facing the potential power that—although militant in its idea—still remains weak and vulnerable, thanks to its representation, to commitment to representation. But, more optimistically, one can say that despite this, we can see in it a potentiality of raising awareness of a need/capability to act, i.e., a potential of mutual empowering through self-organisation beyond the stage, beyond artistic representation.
In-between Raped Desire and Freedom
Transferring to the psychoanalytical level, it can be claimed that the main sensible quality of debt is a kind of raped desire. While being fulfilled through indebtedness, the desire is actually (yet only materially) fulfilled by buying an object of wish—a car, real estate, trip around the world—or by ensuring a certain social position, still being distant, actually out of reach, as a result of risk connected with fear of debt—constant threatening of mortgage, of risk of falling into unemployment or illness that makes debtor incapable to work/earn etc. This dramatic, stressful situation of eluding desire, desire conditioned by debt—indebted, raped desire—is, however, represented as a totally normal, usual circumstance that could be gradually solved, under condition of subordination to the bank (creditor) as a representative/actor of power.
Freedom, contrary to the state of raped desire, means unconditionally having approach to the basic living needs without being depraved, subordinated, exploited. The unbridgeable neoliberal gap is here obvious. The virtual time vacuum that prevents us debtors from living in the present—living our true desires—in order to reach unreachable future is only a result of perverted financial conceptualisation of exploitation, i.e., systemic financial violence, violence of counting. However, it is not only about abolition of debt (178), it is about reaching out from the morality of debt and its discourse, freeing ourselves from any guilt, any duty, any bad conscience.
According to previous notions, my assumption is that one should be aware of representations of the neoliberal gap, especially because they easily slide into representations (aestheticization) based on art. However, to avoid wrong understanding, the impotency of art is not caused by representation as such, but it is rooted in the very operation of exploitation through highly managerized representational techniques of the art field in service of covering/masking its exploitative collective body, consisted of variety of actors involved in its operations, often including artist.
Being aware of the (raped) desire-freedom gap and its representations of different kinds, we are obviously facing the challenge of bridging it, the challenge of reclaiming our future, as often requested by emancipatory movements. Taking our future back is exactly the emancipatory point of taking back our time, our present, our here-now, freeing ourselves from dangerous threats, such as the paradigmatic threat of debt: when one decides to take exactly that time that one lacks, that otherwise does not belong to him/her by the decision of the governors (and by him/herself), the emancipation process starts. As Jacques Rancière claims, that supposedly inevitable lack of time is actually implementation of prohibition written into the very forms of sensible experience, while the politics begins right at the moment when those who “do not have time” take the time they need to establish themselves as inhabitants of the general/common space (Rancière, 24). The possibility to make a rupture in a time vacuum—to act politically—is then open.
Making a rupture means precisely using that time for the purpose of fulfilling one’s desire, whatever that desire is—as long as it is non-authoritarian, does not jeopardise others’ desires, and respects others’ efforts toward self-realisation in a community. A decision to take time to perform an autonomous effort toward political emancipation potentially turns into an interaction of protagonists present in an open space of political performance, whether in the street or on stage.
Reclaiming the future as an emancipatory request refers to remodelling the space of political here-now toward the space of everybody and for everybody. Accordingly, the relation creditor-debtor is in the first place an ultimate relation of subordination that has to be abolished through overcoming the fear of exercising one’s own true desires in the common space, beyond hierarchies.
Lazzarato, Maurizio. Proizvajanje zadolženega človeka [La fabrique de l’homme endetté]. Maska, 2012 .
Rancière, Jacques. Aesthetics and Its Discontents. Polity Press, 2010.
Saša Rakef: Dolg Rakef Saške / Dolg RS. [The Debt of Rakef Saška / The Debt of RS]. Production: Maska. Theatre Glej, Ljubljana, premiere, 29 Oct 2012. An audio recording of the performance (approached 19 Dec 2019).
Jelesijević, Nenad. Dolg kot aparat suženjstva [The Debt as an Apparatus of Slavery]. Radio Student, 17 Dec 2012 (approached 19 Dec 2019).
Marn, Urša. Dialog gluhih. Mladina, 36, 10 Sep 2009 (approached 19 Dec 2019).
This article is a part of the book Indebted to Intervene. Critical Lessons in Debt, Communication, Art, and Theoretical Practice (pp. 65–79) edited by Oliver Vodeb and Nikola Janović Kolenc (Memefest Interventions, Octivium Press and Queensland College of Art, 2013).