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All Roads Lead to Manchester

The first of the party conferences took place last weekend in Birmingham. Whilst inside the conference Nick Clegg and Vince Cable tried to resuscitate the progressive reputation of the Liberal Democrats, those outside were trying their hardest to not let people forget the role the Liberal Democrats have played implementing the cuts.

Whilst the Birmingham protest did not mobilise as many people as the organisers would have surely wanted (estimates being around the 2000 mark), nor gained enough momentum to significantly challenge the Lib-Dem conference, this provided those of us in Manchester an opportunity to see how other places were mobilising against party conferences and to try and pick out some of the problems that they faced. There seem to be three problems that stood out clearly.

1.The lack of a diversity of protestors: From my (admittedly second hand) view it seems the demonstrations in Birmingham were mainly made up of trade unionists and local anti-cuts groups. There weren’t any national anti-cuts groups, no students (freshers week is this week) nor groups aiming to take direct action on the day.
2.The lack of numbers of protestors: With only 2000 protestors on the streets in Birmingham this protest lacked the sheer numbers to force its way into most major coverage of the event.
3.The size of the police operation pitted against them: From the reports I have seen the police were out in large enough numbers to contain the protestors, even if they had chosen different, more confrontational tactics on the day.

Ultimately, the demonstration was easy to contain due to its small size in relation to the police operation it faced and the tactical repertoire it had at its disposal. With no plans for decentralised or mass direct action (by no means a panacea for the Left I must stress) the protest was a simple A to B march which the police were happy to facilitate and the demonstration organisers were happy to have policed.

With less than two weeks to go until the Tories come to Manchester, only one of these factors is clear here in Manchester. It seems certain that there will definitely be a huge police presence in Manchester, complemented by a ring of steel through the centre of the city. The police are already gearing up, with last weekend seeing council officials shut down all political stalls on Market Street (the main highstreet). A place traditionally used for political campaigning. Next weekend will see a broad coalition of leftists return to Market Street to contest this seeming blanket ban on political stalls in the city centre.

Hopefully there will be lots more protestors for the main TUC demonstration on Sunday the 2nd of October at the start of the Tory conference. Lots of coaches have been booked from throughout the country and organisers expect a larger turn out than in Birmingham. This will be swelled by the return of the student population to Manchester (who are organising a feeder march), a section of society in particular that are facing the bleak reality of the cuts and the demolition of the myth of the ‘graduate future’.

Of course it remains to be seen just who will turn up. It’s expected that large amounts of unionists will attend, what remains unclear is the extant that students, anti-cuts groups and other activists and anarchists will attend. The Occupy! MCR proposed occupation of Albert Square is one attempt at bridging the gap between different political groups and tactical repertoires (simply: ways of doing things). In the blurb Occupy! explain that they hope there protest will help to blur the lines between activists and unionists, anarchists and concerned citizens, something which they claim (and I agree) happened at many of the student protests and to a (admittedly far lesser) degree at the March 26th demonstration in London. With a broad list of supporters including local anti-cuts groups, local anarchists, the SWP and UK Uncut hopefully Occupy! will appeal to lots of people for whom a march in itself wouldn’t be enough. The links with the Spanish, Greek and American occupations are made explicitly clear and it appears that the occupation of public space is hoped to be used as a way to breakdown barriers between different political positions and assumptions. Whether this can happen in the UK in the decidedly different political climate and the likely lack of the overwhelming numbers seen in other parts of the world (fingers crossed though!) is an open question.

Obviously the proof is in the pudding. I’ll be there on the day and hope to see you there also. It seems this will be the first large event that will kick off the second winter campaign against the Tories and it will be important to set the tone. What better place than Manchester, what better time than the 2nd of October?

R

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Capital as (Algorithmic) Process

I’ve just finished reading this great article by Donald MacKenzie in London Review of Books. The article discusses the move towards the automation of financial transactions in the stocks and shares market and the implications that this has for the geography of finance and, more importantly, for the stability of financial systems. I found it a really fascinating insight into the functioning of financial markets today.

The key process which MacKenzie is discussing is the move from the trading floor to the rented server as the site of financial transaction.

Human beings can, and still do, send orders from their computers to the matching engines, but this accounts for less than half of all US share trading. The remainder is algorithmic: it results from share-trading computer programs.

Many new recruits to financial firms are Maths and Physics PHD students who will join large programming teams to develop financial algorithms based on physical models previously used to understand processes such as the expansion of gases. Finance is yet another industry in which we are seeing the replacement of living labour with machines.

The bulk of the research also suggests that automated trading makes the buying and selling of shares cheaper and usually easier. Renting rack space in a data centre may be expensive, but not nearly as expensive as employing dozens of well-paid human traders.

This move to computers is helping to shape the new geography of financial transaction with warehouses in the desert hosting vast arrays of servers becoming key sites of financial exchange. MacKenzie tells a fascinating story of the changing temporality of finance as the milli and micro-second becomes the key unit in which MacKenzie’s tales of algorithms stalking data corridors in search of profit takes place. This is all very interesting but there are also, in my opinion, a few other things we can take from this:

  • The is certainly another argument against the whole ‘evil banker’ hypothesis so prevalent in many oppositional politics. It is not morally suspect humans to blame for the financial crash but the inter-play of a variety of factors within a highly complex yet structured system. A critique of capital can not stop at ‘hanging the bankers’ or a critique of the fictional or virtual financial economy.
  • Also, the concept of algorithms is useful when it comes to attempting to analyse the development of capitalism. We need to move away from previous understandings of capitalist development as the unfolding of immutable laws. This is a closed understanding of Capital, in which the possibilities of beyond capital, and our agency to affect this is highly limited. By changing our vocabulary from the law of capital to that of algorithms, or processes, our perspective changes. Rather than a unified, unstoppable juggernaut we begin to see a more chaotic, open and ultimately more fragile set of processes which we can collectively label as capital(ism). A set of processes who’s strength, hyper-flexibilty, is also its major (internal) weakness. Recognizing the inherent fragility of capital is vital if we wish to move beyond and against it.

MacKenzie then goes on to discuss a mini-crash, which lasted for 20 minutes on the 6th May, 2010. A crash which saw the overall value of US shares fall 6% in 5 minutes, a crash in which Accenture’s shares fell from $40.50 to a cent, whilst Southeby’s shares spiked to $99,999.99. Through Mackenzie’s exploration of this mini-crash we are given a brief glimpse into some of the processes helping to shape the current financial context we find ourselves moving within. MacKenzie ends with concerns over a financial system which is both highly complex and tightly coupled – a system with little decision time built into it. Whether operated by humans or computer programmes the stocks and shares market is still highly volatile. Overall, a really great article and well worth a read.

Res0nance_UK now on Twitter

Ok, so this might not be particularly newsworthy but I’m now on twitter. Expect half formed theorems, clumsy networking and astute re-tweeting. If that sounds like your cup of tea head over to twitter and search @Res0nance_UK

This has also let me flex my new designs’ muscles, check out the cool little icon on the top right of the home page. Chuffed!

On other notes, I’m re-reading the Turbulence collected book ‘What would it mean to win’. Expect some musings in the near future.

R

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?

R

Student Struggles and Class Composition

The best way to distort these labour struggles is to pretend that they are only about the university reforms, and therefore only of interest to university workers and students. This is false – beacause we have seen an entire class composition coming together around the universities…

(Sergio Bologna, 1977)

 

Image from one of the student protests in London, Winter 2010

 

This quote really stood out and shouted at me today as I finish doing the reading for the Autonomia reading group I’m following. I’ll be writing my thoughts up later today but thought this quote was worth posting up independently.  Although written in 1977 it still has relevance today, a detailed analysis of the student protests is, I imagine, likely to reveal some of the key trends, conflicts and affinities which may emerge in the coming period of struggle. The concept of class composition and workers enquiry, of using sociological methods for political purpose is proving quite appealing to me at the moment. If I can find the time I’d like to expand some of my thoughts on this idea.

R

Class Composition 2011

Paul Mason, BBC analyst and regular guest at the London anarchist bookfair, puts forward some theses about the recent waves of unrest and tries to draw out the connections between Egypt, Tunisia, UK and the almost certain wave of protests to come.

Very interesting argument that a new sociological, and also political, subject is coming into the limelight – enter the disenfranchised graduate.  Often students and young people are key to new social movements (historically less to lose, ideas often at odds with established societal rules) but what is different now is the new materiality of hope (as a really open university article argues here). The old promises of society are now seen for what they were, lies, whilst the emerging political arguments from the political centre seem laughable – big society, austerity for some, belt tightening… This certainly promotes the development of conditions of social conflict.

Not sure I’d agree with the emphasis on technology and perhaps Mason is a bit light on the economics and political side of this, but still an interesting attempt. Also, not sure about arguing that the 1910’s and ’20’s were much more radical in many ways. Whilst I’m definitely not that clues up on the history of the workers movement we shouldn’t fool ourselves that all the demands of the workers movements were radical. Many of the workers movements were composed of specific strata’s of specialised, skilled workers and I’m doubtful of the universally emancipatory nature of all of there politics. Lots of the protests here in the UK are fairly radical in deed/content if not word, struggles over the nature of education, access to woodlands and corporate tax evasion move beyond fairly self-interested politics. However, Mason clearly states these are notes and they are a very good start. Maybe some time in the future I’ll try and develop on these ideas and write about the UK in particular.

R

First as Tragedy Then as Farce

At some point this week I’ll attempt to try and get down on paper just what happened at Network X but for now…

Network X Bingo ( Day 1) 

If you hear the phrases on your card said at any point in a meeting then tick them off. If you get a line of ticks then you’ve got bingo. Feel free to call out & let us all know!

Middle-class students Inclusive Shout-out (x10) Network of networks Direct action Pie in the sky
Outreach Boycott Pointy-heads Ordinary people Privilege Perma-culture
Bourgeois General strike Tripod Effective Decentral-ised Safe space
Consensus Violence New people Take your batteries out Outreach Is this vegan?
Local communities Trots Global south Local struggle Class war Mass movement
Network X Bingo (Day 2) 

If you hear the phrases on your card said at any point in a meeting then tick them off. If you get a line of ticks then you’ve got bingo. Feel free to call out & let us all know!

Democratic deficit violence Mark Kennedy/Stone/Flash viral process Shout-out (x10)
narrative Thatcher Spaces x10 wedge Monaco (invasion of) Rank and file
Solidarity x 5 Spanish Civil War Facebook Mutual aid occupy Tunisia
Poll tax Social justice Bike rack Working class communities Why are we here? comrade
Other struggles Comrade x 5 Temperature check General strike non-men We’re all anarchists

R

N.B. this is not a criticism of the organisers. They did a great job and can’t be to blame for the piss-poor state of the anarchist movement.

Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

Ivan Illich Deschooling Society (1973: 9)

After having read this interesting book over the christmas period I thought I’d write down a few thoughts and impressions from it.

Lots of Illich’s work is focused on critiquing the institutions which on first glance are taken for granted such as education, transport, health care and work. In this book Illich focuses on the education system, its impacts on children in the global North, its development in the global South and argues for an alternative which he labels learning webs. Illich argues that the education system confuses the process of a minimum of 10 – 12 years mandatory education with professional educators intermittently interrupted by standardised tests with the substance/aim of education, supporting people to acquire useful information and develop ways of understanding and interacting with the world.

The book is critical of the educational institution and it supporting experts – educational technicians, the role of teachers (however well meaning they wish to be) and the subjects the system is aimed at producing. This is still an important critique, many of the students involved in organising against cuts to education have an image of the ideal university with which to base their claims on. I’m sceptical as to whether the university was ever an institution which those of us seeking to develop the human potential to its greatest would ever be happy with. Competition, examination, time pressures, limited academic freedom were presumably present in previous forms of the university even before the current edu-crisis. Illich’s criticism of the educational system, which does not explicitly discuss the university as a specific structure,  is useful for those engaged with current struggles surrounding the university.

In its place Illich suggests educational webs, informal networks facilitated through public services and social networks   (and presumably the internet today) would seek to link co-learners together in voluntary encounters. Those with specific skills could also advertise their skills and help to spread them through the tuition of interested parties. Illich, it seems, is arguing for mainly informal learning aimed at matching those with needs (an interest in car mechanics, a desire to read and discuss a specific book or idea) with either those in possession of specific sets of knowledge and skills (e.g. musicians) or those interested in sharing the learning experience together (reading group partners). The important thing that many of us interested in education might be able to take from this is that the most important thing, obviously enough, is to match desires/needs with like-minded people or those with the knowledge to help satisfy these needs. There isn’t much point doing rocket stove workshops in inner-city Manchester, the only need this is probably staisfying is for the rocket stove enthusiast putting on the workshops…

How we get to be in a position to work out these needs is another question though… Needs that emerge from within our own networks, social groups and communities might be easy enough but “solidarity” (or whatever we’d like to call it) with other communities may be a harder process. How do we know what other groups would like and how can we seek to facilitate these learning encounters without being patronising or well meaning but useless…

The book is, obviously, very old, so for a more in depth analysis maybe look elsewhere. the point above are more a snap shot of a few of the thoughts I had whilst engaging with the book.

R

p.s.  just found the Pinky Show’s video interpretation of this. It’s lovely, if not a little bizarre.  Only just found out about the Pinky Show and I think they’re pretty great.

2012 world strike – A clarification

Just to clarify that my article on the 2012 World Strike was in fact a critical article. After hunting around on twitter I managed to find this. I’m not sure how offended I should be by the fact that the 2012 world strike tweeter didn’t realise my article was in fact a critical one.

In other news, the festive period is providing me with the absolute luxury of uninterrupted relaxation time. I’m down in deepest darkest Devon where the internet is fairly non-existent which is meaning my relaxation time is off the net and on the page which is a lovely change. I’ve read Giovani Arrighi’s “The Long Twentieth Century” which was an interesting read and am just about to finish “Illich’s Deschooling Society” (Expect a review soon).

R

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