Monthly Archives: March 2011

New article of mine about the TUC demo up on Shift website

Head over here for the article. Any comments etc. much welcomed.


Badiou on the Arab Spring

Hello everyone, apologies for the recent dry spell on here. I’ve just started a new job and it’s taking up a significant portion of my time. I intend to get on with the two Autonomia sessions I’ve missed at some point very soon.

I’ve just read a fairly bad translation of an Alain Badiou article on the Arab spring here. Thanks to Joe for pointing me towards that. Keep an eye out on his blog as when it gets going I’m sure it’s going to have some great content on it.

Badiou’s piece as Joe comments is certainly an interesting one. The critique of the patronising position of Western commentators is an important one. What we are witnessing shouldn’t be interpreted as a movement towards modernity, or a ‘catching up’ of a backwards and oppressed polity but what Badiou calls an event. A previously unthinkable moment which opens up all kinds of opportunities and new problematics. Perhaps new dictators will emerge, or new islamist movements (which have become the spectre haunting liberal Europe it seems) but other possibilities also co-exist in the chaotic present.

If we reject the patronising perspective on the Arab Spring which attempts to understand these struggles as part of a modernising framework, or a sort of ‘Berlin Wall’ moment then something much more uncertain yet potentially inspiring remains. Negri and Hardt draw parallels between the inspirational and educational affects of the Arab Spring and previous uprising in Latin America which served to inform global struggles during the anti-global period. Some of the lessons which were drawn from the Latin American struggles, adapted to different contexts, were important in helping other movements gain traction and subsequently helped amplify the common frequency which mobilised them (if we wish to continue using the useful aural metaphors of resonance and sound waves). Indeed the Arab Spring is clearly inspiring groups and peoples here in the UK, for example calls to turn Hyde Park into Tahir Square for the evening of the 26th. However we must be careful to learn what we can and bring this back to a UK context not merely emulate what has already happened. In a hyper-mediatised sphere in which we face disciplinary forces which seek to regulate and make our protest legible within a liberal capitalist framework (the police, political parties) we need to constantly innovate.

So, what can we take from these protests?

1)    That state power can be challenged.

2)    That oppositional movements can emerge in very small periods of time. Though this recent  movement has emerged from a long period of grinding poverty and oppressive state power.

3)    That decentralised movements can be successful, though perhaps not so much when it comes to the business of waging a military campaign a la Libya.

Ultimately we don’t know the outcome of the Arab Spring but we shouldn’t see it as a discrete event, and certainly not as a living artefact, a catching up of the Arab world which some smug Western liberals see it as. Instead the Arab Spring is one moment, or an event as Badiou would put it, within the broader sweep of a radical moment whose contours are only just coming into focus. The speed with which we get to grips with this moment, our ability to find inspiration elsewhere and translate it into our situation here will be key to how this social movement (in its truest sense) plays out. As the picture I chose suggests, the question is how do we stop the Arab spring turning into a European Winter as it heads North?

Crimthinc Comes of Age?

Interesting article which catches members of the crimethinc collective in a fairly reflective mood. They discuss the changes that have occurred since their project began and argue that many of these changes have come about through our organisation. Whilst we shouldn’t get too carried away with our, “our” being the conscious left, influence in this the links to autonomist theory are clear to see.

The recognition of the move into austerity and generalised precariousness and the rise of decentralised hierarchy and power relations are important points of our new situation. Crimethinc should be commended for honestly discussing the shifts that their project has experienced.

It seems that people, collectives and groups all over the place are beginning to re-evaluate the contemporary political situation (it’s class composition to use an autonomist term), its constraints and opportunities, it’s horizons and its current nature. Commonalities appear to be emerging through the variety of different perspectives and local contexts in which these forms of knowledge are produced. It will be interesting to see if the new foundations for movement are being produced. The key task for this will be in the ways in which this knowledge is developed and stimulated to spread. Can we move firstly beyond the satisfied activist clique and then engage with other communities and world views to start forging the basis for meaningful political change, not just interesting theoretical discussion?


Difference and Repetition: Manchester Demonstration against the cuts, March 5th

I’ve noticed that there wasn’t a report up on Indymedia about today’s March Against the Cuts organised by the Manchester Coalition against the Cuts so i thought I’d quickly write some thoughts up. Apologies if it’s not a very to the point report, I thought I’d have a crack at some “gonzo” journalism.

The March Against the Cuts demonstration headed to the town hall and although Granada TV suggest 2000 people were present, I’d probably say about 800 people were there. This demonstration had a clearly different make up from the previous wave of demonstrations that we had seen in Manchester and the UK. As well as the numbers,  gone were the FE students, sound systems and “anything but a kettle” mentality and in their place was the much more familiar array of leftist factions, paper sellers and tabarded union members. The different element being represented at this demonstration were community groups and projects about to feel the bite of the impending cuts. The route was clearly marked and those trusted with the loud-hailers clearly prepped to keep the energy up with anti-tory chanting. The police presence was very low with the tabarded stewards keen to keep everything presentable and organised. The demonstration wound its way through the city centre, meeting a mixed response from supportive car honkers, to bemused photo takers and all positions in between. Compared to the unpredictability and open-ness of the previous round of protests this was certainly very different with the whole script already clear before we’d set off. Milan Kundera’s Long March of the Left made a stop off here in Manchester this cool March morning.

However, I shouldn’t be too critical. Although the demo. was missing many of the people that had made the winter demo’s so interesting there were still some interesting development and indicators of difference to the political repetition we were seeing. The many local community groups and organisations feeling the heat of the impending cuts were a new addition. Some of the largest cheers at the end of demo speeches were reserved for successful campaigns such as the one which saved the public baths in Levenshulme and for those currently fighting to save the South Manchester law centre. It was these groups rather than the varied, though invariably dull, speakers from the organised left such as Stop the War and the TUC which were calling for the occupation of the town hall. These groups, once again fighting for a real material issue, might be the next flashpoint of struggle. If we are to engage with these struggles meaningfully we will probably have to move beyond our comfort zones which have been established during the past decade or so of fairly low social struggle. I left the post-demo speeches with many more questions than answers with regards to the character of the anti-cuts struggle.

The lack of students has been illuminated for me by spending some time at the University occupation here in Manchester. The space is lovely and there is an array of events going on, some good and some falling prey to the inevitable invasion of dusty old lefties in a room to gently patronise the only genuinely exciting grass roots social struggle in the past decade or so. However, at a recent strategy meeting one possible reason that many students were no longer involved were clear. At the meeting the organised, experienced leftist groups were keen to argue that the student struggles were over (or at least needed broadening), that this “political” battle must be subsumed to the “economic” battle of the workers. One rather patronising Communist student suggested that I should refer to Lenin before discussing the finer points of financial theory… Indeed it is this return to the “safe” (and vacuous) answer of “building/broadening” the movement and engaging the workers with literature (perhaps another newspaper? 😛 ) which marks the return to business as usual and the resultant decline of broader interest. Many that were involved before xmas have inevitably drifted away whilst those that are left seem to be rapidly slipping into the professional activist role, be that in its anarchist, liberal or Socialist form. The traces of this exciting period though, shouldn’t just be read into the fresh faced students selling various newspapers or masked up by the town hall with a “feed the poor/ eat the rich” banner but also in some of the genuinely interesting experiements still going on. The Roscoe occupation is one of these spaces and has the potential to be a great space to share ideas and for different political “generations”, if we are to use the Free Association term for it, can come and cross-pollinate. Peering into the murky depths of student politics at the occupation and today at the demonstration it’s difficult, but still possible to make out the echoes of the exciting events of last winter. Where these echoes travel, and through which subjects and spaces, remains a question far more open than the the way in which many in the traditional left are interpreting it.

So, the character of the resistance to the cuts is changing, clearly. Whether we can learn anything from this demonstration or the discussions in an occupation here in Manchester who knows… The 26th in London will be the next chance to see who and what makes up the current state of the “movement”.


The Movement is Changing! Long live the Movement!

So last weekend, after 6 years of existence the climate camp has officially announced its decision to change. Not end but change. The statement is really great and can be read here. The camp has decided to;

1. We will not organise a national Climate Camp in 2011.

2. We will not organise national gatherings as ‘Climate Camp’ or the Camp for Climate Action in 2011.

Whilst keeping several working groups which will aim to;

  1. A group to maximise the usefulness of our material resources.
  2. A group to address ongoing communications plus learn from and document our experiences over the past few years.
  3. A group to investigate new organisational forms, structures and tactics for possible next experiments.
  4. A group to organise a meeting to share ideas about these next experiments.

As the statement accurately begins the political times have changed, new dynamics have moved the political space in which we operate to a very different place. What was once new and fresh had become slightly predictable and no longer spoke to the activist scene or the wider public. It’s  really difficultto realise that a group/movement has reached a dead-end and an certainly very brave to decide to end this project and start experimenting with alternatives.

The Climate Camp was certainly successful in many ways (direct action, skill sharing, awareness raising on climate change) and also struggled in some areas (international linkage, overemphasis on finance and certain banks such as RBS) but it’s importance is unquestionable. In a period of low social struggle the camp for climate action was a key node within the UK’s Left wing milieu. I went to several camps and they were quite formative in my political trajectory so far (admittedly helping to define as much of what I opposed as what I supported). However, the recent protests, their lack of specialist activists in the forefront, their focus on other struggles (education, welfare, etc.) had left the climate camp struggling to engage. Indeed the task of linking climate justice with anti-austerity measures needs to be taken up in more detail than the general call for green jobs.

Given the scale of the cuts, the upsurge in social struggle and the organised Left’s difficulty in relating to them these experiments are more important than ever. This blog has been a commentator on the climate camp (at times, admittedly, a fairly acerbic one) but would like to wish everyone involved well with future projects and hope to bump into you in an exciting political space/event sometime soon.

As the articles title suggests this isn’t the end but a new beginning, part and parcel of our experimentations with political forms and content and should be applauded as a brave move towards the continual revolution of our praxis. But what shape will this crysalis take and in what from will it emerge?