by Andrew Stewart
To begin at the ending perhaps provides the best opening for this effort, so forgiveness is asked of those who have not seen the MATRIX trilogy. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek argued in his review essay of the second MATRIX RELOADED film that “If…THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS is to succeed, it will have to produce nothing less than the appropriate answer to the dilemmas of revolutionary politics today, a blueprint for the political act the Left is desperately looking for.” And such is the case, as we shall see.
At the outset, I perhaps should point out the contours of our material. What I am going to be discussing herein is not a singular picture in the movie trilogy, or for that matter just the trilogy of films itself. The conclusion of this science fiction epic, when completed by the November 2003 release of the final MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, in fact entailed five separate, inter-connected, and requisite pieces of media, released across multiple media platforms, that are absolutely essential for a complete understanding of the storyline, meaning one cannot reach the following conclusions by only watching one particular film or just consuming all the films released on DVD by the end of 2004. Instead, one must watch, in story-specified order, THE MATRIX, THE ANIMATRIX anthology film, the cinematic ‘cut scenes’ from the ENTER THE MATRIX video game, and then the final two pictures, RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS. Not doing so in fact causes people to come away from the story with wildly different interpretations, up to including the argument that a white savior and his magic African American sidekick, the plot of the first film, are far from intersectional or revolutionary.
The final victory of the film, presented in a deceptive and elusive manner that originally befuddled and enraged many fans at the time of the release (the final film’s box office dropped 66% in total earnings in its second week of release due in no small part to this concluding sequence), is quite importantly not the traditional Romantic denouement where the hero and heroine are married and ride off into the sunset. Trinity, the love interest, dies at the start of the final act and our hero, Neo, seems to first offer his Matrix self up for a kind of spiritual sacrifice followed by his limp and presumably dead corpse being absorbed into oblivion.
Rather, we end with the elderly working class Black woman, the Oracle, sitting in a city park and speaking with her former quasi-spouse and spiritual antithesis, the Architect, a character portrayed by a well-dressed man with impeccable grammar and whose manner exudes what is now described as “white supremacy culture”. The little Indian girl Sati joins them alongside the southeast Asian Seraph, who serves as a guardian for the Oracle. Sati has made in the sky for all to see a colorful display of aberrant shades stemming from the sunrise, a sort of work of art, which is going to serve as a signal for a wider revolutionary consciousness and upsurge that will succeed because of a set of arrangements put in place by the Oracle.
It is here that crucial and easily misunderstood lines are exchanged.
ORACLE: Well, now. Ain’t this a surprise.
ARCHITECT: You played a very dangerous game.
ORACLE: Change always is.
What is revealed here, as a culmination of revelations over the course of the later pieces of media (all but the first film were produced simultaneously in Australia as a macro work), is absolutely vital. The Oracle as a character has spent the entirety of the series offering prophecies that led the heroes of the series to believe that a white middle class male, Neo, was a messianic chosen one that would lead a revolution and free mankind from the Matrix. But in fact these prophecies were nothing more or less than a very complex ruse and the Oracle lied to them all in order to make Neo take a series of steps that would end with the salvation of humanity but also the death of himself and his beloved.
Salvation comes to mankind through the subversion of white supremacist heteronormative patriarchy by a working class African American woman. As a celebration, the heavens are lit up with a host of beautiful colors generated by a little Indian girl whose name is the Pali word for ‘mindfulness’ in the Buddhist tradition. They are both protected by a southeast Asian martial arts expert whose name is the Hebrew word for ‘angel’.
Putting this simply, the Wachowskis offer as an answer to the future of Leftism an intersectional politics that embraces rather than rebukes religious and spiritual traditions. It transcends the obviously New Left Maoist flaws of the first film’s finale, namely a shortcoming in regards to gender issues, and creates a cinematic utopian vista for activists to strive for. Quoting Wikipedia:
Intersectionality is a term coined by American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity.
Here it is worth pointing to the fact the first two pictures ended with songs performed by Rage Against the Machine, a rock band whose lyrics could be called Maoism with electric guitars. Frank Guan writes about the flaws of those first two films and the music of Rage:
Gender, in many ways, is the revolutionary dog that doesn’t bark in both Rage’s music and THE MATRIX films: For all their vehement and frequent attacks on conservative concepts of race and class, the centrality of masculinity typical in rock music and action films is questioned only briefly and without consistency. When a band so loud about so many injustices goes all but silent regarding injustices specific to women, it can’t help but hearken back to a long legacy on the left of dickish firebrands who scorn women’s issues as being too soft and unserious to learn about or address.
By contrast, the final picture follows its elevation of working class women of color with a choral repetition of Hindu Sanskrit sloka is recited in a westernised style: “Asatoma Sat Gamaya, Tamasoma Jyotir Gamaya, Mrityorma Anritam Gamaya”, which means “Lead me from the unreal to the Real, Lead me from the darkness to the Light, Lead me from the temporary to the Eternal”, over the credits. The film makers have rather ingeniously used the venue of a science fiction action picture to articulate a praxis that contains within its coordinates the requisite dialectical critiques of prior failed praxis, including Althusser’s theories of ideology.
The alt-right, Steve Bannon’s Leninist cadre of white nationalists looking to build their base, is one of the most astoundingly ironic things I have ever encountered in my years of studying Marxist theory and cinema. Among all the undeniably well-designed and aesthetically-pleasing elements of this new Nazi cottage industry is the fact that their entire initiation system, so-called ‘red pill-ing’ someone, is a trope derived from THE MATRIX films, one of if not the most successful neo-Marxist series made in history. In other words, so to wage a war against ‘Cultural Marxism’, ‘feminism’, and ‘white genocide’, they literally are using as a vehicle for their wretched doctrines not just a Marxist text but a masterclass on Althusser, Gramsci, Lacan, and Zizek and how their theories are elements of the discourse about praxis and cultural studies, which the alt-right mistakenly call ‘cultural Marxism’.
The irony is so rich it would be the stuff of a deadly diabetic shock if it were not so deadly serious. Bebel’s famous quip about the socialism of fools is totally lacking in this instance. I would argue the alt-right’s use of this film is nothing less than the War Communism of the genocidal lunatics. Certainly one might wonder whether jesting about such matters is appropriate but I respond by pointing to the European pogroms that were flooding newspaper headlines when the German socialist made his remarks. Furthermore I feel inclined to point to the fact that, at least in my own analysis, we are only going to beat these people with humor. For if there is one thing borne out by history, it is that Adolf Hitler felt so threatened by Charlie Chaplin that he banned THE GREAT DICTATOR. By contrast, he found allies in the Communists not once, when the KPD idiotically helped get the Nazis elected in 1933, but twice, when Joseph Stalin allowed for the commission of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact!
My hope here is to provide a basic primer for the non-academic and non-Leftist reader so to build a consciousness that can challenge the alt-right’s use of the films and repudiate it. Putting it another way, I offer a short essay on the true meaning of the films and why it is an important tool for the abolition of the white race. I would argue that our repudiation of the alt-right’s “red-pill” must articulate a brief summary of the notion of ideology, which the films act out, and then a sufficient explanation of what the implications of the much misunderstood and maligned final film are.
The first point to be discussed in such proceedings would therefore be an explanation of the analogy of the Matrix. What is it actually?
The Wachowskis have created in this film a visual representation of what is known as the Marxist analysis of ideology. Quoting an encyclopedia (https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/i/d.htm#ideology), we can define the term as “a system of concepts and views which serves to make sense of the world while obscuring the social interests that are expressed therein, and by its completeness and relative internal consistency tends to form a closed system and maintain itself in the face of contradictory or inconsistent experience.” An ideology can be transmitted via any number of cultural or civic institutions, be they religion, politics, or education bodies.
The Matrix is a giant computer simulation, beamed into the brains of human beings tethered to a generator, that keeps them docile so they can provide energy to power the machine system that dominates the world. This is of course a very clever analogy for what the worker experiences as a cog in the machine of the capitalist system. The bio-metric energy that is extracted from humans plugged into the Matrix and ever-ensconced in a perpetual comatose state is analogous to Marx’s definition of labor being sold to an employer-boss as use-values. In Das Kapital he writes
Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature… In the labour-process, therefore, man’s activity, with the help of the instruments of labour, effects an alteration, designed from the commencement, in the material worked upon. The process disappears in the product, the latter is a use-value, Nature’s material adapted by a change of form to the wants of man. Labour has incorporated itself with its subject: the former is materialized, the latter transformed. That which in the laborer appeared as movement, now appears in the product as a fixed quality without motion. The blacksmith forges and the product is a forging.
In a 1980 interview, Louis Althusser said
Althusser: Communism is a mode of production where there are no economic relationships of exploitation nor any political relationships of domination. Neither are there ideological relationships of intimidation or pressure, nor of ideological enslavement. And here among us these relationships do not exist.
Journalist: Among us here, in this very moment?
Althusser: Yes, in this moment. There are islands of communism everywhere across the world, for example: the church, certain trade unions, also in certain cells/units of the Communist Party. At my Communist Party we have a cell/unit which is communist; it means that communism has been realized… Look at how football is played, what happens… It is not about market relationships, it is not about political domination, it is not about ideological intimidation. There are people from [different] teams that oppose each other, they respect the rules, that is, they respect each other. Communism is the respect for humankind.
In this way we occupy a constant battle between capitalism and communism on the inter-personal level that is given illustration by the clash between the heroes in THE MATRIX and systemic enforcers such as Agent Smith. Neo presented as the One is a kind of existential bridge between the two, a New Socialist Man. While obviously many at this juncture would point to the obvious Christian parallels and analogies, which in turn would to many seem to nullify any elements of the film being useful to godless Communism, in fact this is a philosophical instance of what Ralph Nader calls ‘convergence’. Gregory Zinoviev, one of the leaders of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, further elucidated this point in 1924:
‘So what, in your opinion, is the working class, a Messiah?’ To this we answered and answer now: Messiah and messianism are not our language and we do not like such words; but we accept the concept that is contained in them: yes, the working class is in a certain sense a Messiah and its role is a messianic one, for this is the class which will liberate the whole world… We avoid semi-mystical terms like Messiah and messianism and prefer the scientific one: the hegemonic proletariat.
However, the rather contradictory sequels to the first film beg a question, are we seeing Neo as the traditional Christian messiah or as a kind of heretical Gnostic Christ figure? Zizek says in another essay:
The final inconsistency concerns the ambiguous status of the liberation of humanity announced by Neo in the last scene [of the first film]. As the result of Neo’s intervention, there is a “SYSTEM FAILURE” in the Matrix; at the same time, Neo addresses people still caught in the Matrix as the Savior who will teach them how to liberate themselves from the constraints of the Matrix – they will be able to break the physical laws, bend metals, fly in the air… However, the problem is that all these “miracles” are possible only if we remain WITHIN the VR sustained by the Matrix and merely bend or change its rules: our “real” status is still that of the slaves of the Matrix, we as it were are merely gaining additional power to change our mental prison rules – so what about exiting from the Matrix altogether and entering the “real reality” in which we are miserable creatures living on the destroyed earth surface?
I argue that the first film intentionally and deceptively invokes a Gnostic notion of messiah, typical of certain philosophical flaws in the praxis of many leftists, and that the second two films rebuke those notions in order to present an intersectional feminist counter. The first film creates the image of a romantic Euro-centric revolutionary moment, akin to perhaps the scenes on the barricades in Les Miserables, and in the later films we see that the revolution is instead defined by a victory over racism, colonialism, and imperialism.
Furthermore, what the Wachowskis are doing is reflecting on how the traditional left political formations imploded in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, an absolutely necessary critique. Following the success of the anti-nuclear and Latin American solidarity movements in the 1980s that had caused the Reagan-Bush machine to come into near gridlock, the Left almost instantaneously evaporated in the face of Clintonism. Academic Marxism was obsessed for a significant period of time by postmodern and poststructural theories that promoted intellectual stagnation. Bill and Hillary Clinton, who swept into office with a PR machine that made them seem like chic Baby Boomer progressives going back to 1960s antiwar movement, used this cover to consolidate Reaganism’s goals by abolishing Welfare, passing the vicious Crime Omnibus Bill, and signing off on NAFTA while waging a near-genocidal war on Iraq under the sanctions regime. It was not until the 1999 WTO events in Seattle, wherein an internationalist solidarity between anarchists in the streets and sensible post-colonial state delegates in the conference effectively voided Bill Clinton’s effort to institute further neocolonialism in the Global South, that radical left politics returned to the forefront. The film’s protagonist is the embodiment of everything wrong with the 1990s cultural ethic in America, a nonunion white collar technician who engages in subversive internet behavior, is drawn into a nihilistic drug-fueled techno subculture, and quite literally hides his illicit wares, illegal software stored on CD-ROMs, in a hollowed-out copy of Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard (perhaps a clever comment on how empty postmodernism can be?)
All these points bear merit because we now find ourselves in a set of affairs where the neo-Nazi alt-right is looking to build their base by exploiting the grievances of working and middle class white workers caused by Clinton-style neoliberalism. In order to hinder this, we need to “red pill” these people into the truth of class war as opposed to race war. And this requires a politics that the parliamentary venues will simply fail to provide. Whether it be a retro-New Deal Democratic Socialism proposed by Bernie Sanders or other variations of Popular Front-ism that goes under labels such as “fusion voting”, the liberal class and their functionaries within government have been totally delegitimized. Sanders, while admirable in his own way, is simply not going to be enough here.
The great Caribbean thinker CLR James wrote “I have long believed that a very great revolutionary is a great artist, and that he develops ideas, programmes, etc, as Beethoven develops a movement.” His view was that popular culture would be the kernel of what could become a revolution. One should see the decision to either vote for Trump or to not vote at all in the recent quadrennial electoral extravaganza as sign of a desire to be done with the matrix of consensus politics and Clinton-styled neoliberalism. The alt-right understands this notion and wants to use the MATRIX films so to actualize the construction of their own cadre. But I hope in offering these critical thoughts on how the films in fact relate to Left praxis that we can prove to be an effective challenge to their poisonous rhetoric. My recent book TAXI SEARCHERS is likewise written and formatted to appeal to the better angels of their nature. The current challenge, especially before so-called whites, is to engage in a no-holds barred ideological guerrilla warfare with the alt-right and do so using the popular culture as a lingua franca in our discourse.