Revolution is no longer an option. At least according to Byung-Chul Han who argues that the revolutionary remedy is foreclosed by neoliberalism.
Why is the neoliberal system of domination so stable? Why is there so little resistance to it? Why does the resistance that does occur so quickly come to naught? Why, despite the ever-expanding divide between rich and poor, is revolution no longer possible? To explain this state of affairs, we need a precise understanding of how power and domination function today.
In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labour entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.
The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.
Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themself and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.
...According to Naomi Klein, the state of social shock following catastrophes such as the financial crisis in South Korea — or the current crisis in Greece — offers the chance to radically reprogram society by force. Today, there is hardly any resistance in South Korea. Quite the opposite: a vast consensus prevails — as well as depression and burnout. South Korea now has the world’s highest suicide rate. People enact violence on themselves instead of seeking to change society. Aggression directed outward, which would entail revolution, has yielded to aggression directed inward, against oneself.
Today, no collaborative, networked multitude exists that might rise up in a global mass of protest and revolution. Instead, the prevailing mode of production is based on lonesome and isolated self-entrepreneurs, who are also estranged from themselves. Companies used to compete with each other. Within each enterprise, however, solidarity could occur. Today, everyone is competing against everyone else — and within the same enterprise, too. Even though such competition heightens productivity by leaps and bounds, it destroys solidarity and communal spirit. No revolutionary mass can arise from exhausted, depressive, and isolated individuals.
Neoliberalism cannot be explained in Marxist terms. The famous “alienation” of labour does not even occur. Today, we dive eagerly into work — until we burn out. The first stage of burnout syndrome, after all, is euphoria. Burnout and revolution are mutually exclusive. Accordingly, it is mistaken to believe that the Multitude will cast off the parasitic Empire to inaugurate a communist society.
So, if Mr. Han's dystopian vision is right, it's time to put down your pitchfork and pick up your bucket and mop. Clean up on Aisle 4. Get busy.