Head over here for the article. Any comments etc. much welcomed.
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?
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?
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”.
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;
- A group to maximise the usefulness of our material resources.
- A group to address ongoing communications plus learn from and document our experiences over the past few years.
- A group to investigate new organisational forms, structures and tactics for possible next experiments.
- 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?
This week’s reading for the Bingham Autonomia series consisted of Tronti’s “The strategy of Refusal” and Selma James’s and Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community”. The Bingham group have posted up some notes here, whilst Hilary Malatino has further explored the genealogy of the refusal of work and the ways in which these currents exist in the contemporary politics of the left.
As these two commentaries have already highlighted, from our position now, the two articles which we have read for this session dovetail neatly. The social relations of capital rely upon unwaged reproductive labour in the social factory as much as in the industrial factory. The refusal to “collaborate actively in capitalist development, the refusal to put forward positive programs of demands”. Both look to move beyond the party and examine social relations, and social conflict, through the eyes of its producers in both their waged and unwaged forms. Indeed, as Michael Denning argues in a recent article what unites us is not the wage (indeed a guaranteed wage is fast becoming the exception rather than the norm throughout the world) but rather our precaritisation and dispossession from the means of subsistence and production. In recognising that ‘there is a class even in the absence of the party” (Marx, in Tronti), previous forms of organising such as the labour movement and the ‘party’ are challenged. The task now is to recognise the new forms in which our struggles are articulated and the terrain upon which they are inscribed.
Precarity, Social Labour and the Refusal of Work
Under capitalism, the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited
Michael Denning, NLR
I’d agree that the refusal of work is one of the key “Autonomist gestures” but how is this translated into political action? Tronti is dismissive of the general strike as a “romantic naivete” and develops this to critique the official labour movements endorsement of the dignity of labour and demands for its “fair share” of the produce (written at a time when many of the ledt wing parties in Italy were endorsing the “historic compromise” between capital and labour). Looking towards future readings this scepticism of the general strike as means to take power, rather than create crisis, is echoed in the invisible committee’s concept of the “human strike”. In a time of mass unemployment and precarious labour what does the refusal of work look like? Where are the (as Tronti so poetically puts it) “New Barbarians of the proletariat”?
Dalla Costa and James analysis of unwaged labour which occurs in the household resonates with some of the reading I have been doing regarding precarity and immaterial labour in the past week. As well as household work we help to (re)produce society, produce immaterial commodities and invest them with meaning in our everyday life. From helping make parts of cities “cool” (See the Berlin Left’s intensification of its anti-gentrification campaigns) to developing new niche scenes (the “hipster” scene in Shoreditch perhaps?) or micro-musical genres (witch house anyone?) we are involved in producing unwaged cultural capital in many different ways. Even our facebook data is mined and sold as marketing information, returning to us in the form of personally targeted ads. In the 21rst century of more widespread immaterial labour surrounding the production of signs, meanings and emotional affects the refusal of work seems broader than downing tools at the sight. Anti-gentrification struggles, internet piracy and counter-cultural trends all seem to suggest partial connections to the refusal of work yet, ultimately, are prone to recuperation and commodification. Leading us back to Tronti and his (sometimes unconvincing) argument that our struggles are the real motor of capitalist development.
A Lenin for 2011?
Finally it’s worth highlighting the leninist roots of some of the currents which came together within autonomia. Tronti is clearly pro-leninist arguing the “subjective leap forward” for the capitalist driven by a Keynes inspired fusion of state planning and economic development is as important as Lenin has been for the working class. What is the Leninist legacy? can anything be salvaged from it? Slavoj Zizek clearly thinks there is, and I’d be tempted to say that there are some important things we can take from him (a theory inspired by the belief we can win and a willingness to analyse the political context strategically) but other parts of is theory e.g. the party and the vanguard must be assigned to the political graveyard. As we progress it is clear that Autonomia has some roots which may seem alien to the predominately anarchist and autonomous Marxist positions which find inspiration in it.
The movement of 1977 was not only a totally different way of conceiving of the relation between life and politics, but a series of contents and values that had never been placed on the agenda of the political project. Despite having apparently left a void in its wake, despite having apparently only laid bare the crisis of political forms, including the crisis of the party-form, 1977 has to be considered one of the greatest anticipations of the forms and contents of political and social life seen in recent years. After 1977 there is no turning back, despite all the errors committed, and for which many are still paying in an atrocious manner. 1977 was a year in which the wealth and complexity of problems was such that the political form able to contain and organise them all adequately could not be found.
(Sergio Bologna, 1980)
Here are some of my thoughts on the reading for week 2 of the Bingham University Autonomia reading group.
The Personal is Political
The pamphlet “Lets spit on Hegel” by an Autonomist feminist group Rivolta Femminile is interesting and I’d pretty much agree with the analysis put forward by the Bingham group. Although having no familiarity with Hegel at all the article made some interesting points, namely:
- A rejection of contemporaneous Marxist-Leninist politics which sought to subsume gender struggles within the class struggle, interpreted within Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic.
- A very interesting critique of the liberal and juridical conception of equality.
- A recognition of the political nature of the everyday experiences of people.
This pamphlet marks some interesting changes within radical thought during this period. The rejection of Leninist politics, the emegrence of new spheres and forms of struggle marked an extremely productive and creative flowering of political antagonism towards which most of the old leftist forms of organising were simply no longer relevant. Whether these organisations moved down a parliamentary road (see next section on the PCI and PSI), dwindled to small isolated groups or disbanded such as Lotta Continua (see the Free Associations great article on Autonomia and Punk here), the changing nature of society, its class composition i.e. how work was organised, the aspirations of people, the political struggles which were apparent or deemed necessary – was changing beyond the abilities of the workerist organisations to adapt.
The langauage and co-ordinates of politics were changing. Politics moved into the social factory and struggles were fought over access to culture, the role of gender in society, and housing. The terrain of political conflict moved beyond production to social (re)production. These two markedly different forms of organisation with different lexicons of desire struggled to be legible to one another.
The underlying economic and political changes which laid the foundations for new forms of Leftist politics are made clearer through a reading of the two chapters from Steve Wright’s “Storming Heaven”. This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for about a year now and I was glad to finally get the incentive to start reading it (although it felt a little like cheating skipping to the final chapter).
Wright’s first chapter focuses on the major leftist organisations in 1950’s and 1960’s Italy, the Communist party (PCI) and the socialist party (PSI) and their gradual incorporation into the world of formal politics with both parties aiming for centre coalitions using the political capital gained by fighting the fascists during the endgame of the second world war and an economic boom brought about by productivity bargains and the Marshall plan. This economic boom occurred between 1948 and 1962 and exacerbated an uneven geographical development of Northern and Southern Italy. For a brief but interesting analysis of this see Ernest Dowson’s “The Italian Background” over at libcom. The increasingly dogmatic reformist politics of the PCI and the PSI led to many radical leftists leaving these groups and beginning to develop their own ideas. Particularly around the concept of class composition and attempting to develop a parallel sociology to that of bourgeois sociology and develop it as an analytical tool for radical social change. These militant workers enquiries revealed lots about changing forms of production and the increasing irrelevance of the unions and leftist parties to ordinary workers struggles.
By the final chapter, set almost two decades after the first, Wright paints an image of an organised Left in chaos with the Autonomia movement facing a choice between self-conscious political ghettoisation or combattentismo, the cult of machismo and political violence which occurred in several places throughtout Europe and North America during this period (presumably as a response to the petering out of the radical potential of the New Left, though I’m certainly no expert). Wright argues that a political disconnect has occurred between the Operaist (Workerist) current and the movements of Autonomia, whose politics emphasised “needs over duty, difference over homogeneity, the localised and personal over class struggle”. This new political language marks a clear break from political ideas and forms of organising which were becoming increasingly irrelevant. The Rivolta Femminile article is one clear example of this rupture with traditional forms of worker based politics. The worker as the privileged political subject was undermined.
As the quote I chose to start this post with highlights the autonomous politics of 1970’s Italy mark a clear break with previous modes of organising. However, some of the concepts of tools of operaismo, and the workers tradition in general, still have purchase today. As I’ve mentioned in a few other posts the concept of class composition, is useful for those of us organising beyond the capital relation. The political laboratory of Italy in the 1970’s speaks to those of us involved, yet demand a critical analysis, whilst the impotence of the unions and the failure of workerist politics are still clearly evident, so to are many forms of political activism which have been associated with Leftist politics in the past twenty years. Ultimately what I’ve taken from this week’s reading has been an analysis of political change in a political situation not too far removed from our own yet still with enough distance that it’s political contours can be fairly clearly sketched out. What we witness when we place these three chapters in a chronological order is a story of political experimentation, successes (even if at first they don’t appear as such) and also failures. Hopefully future reading will beign to untangle the move towards analysing the “Social factory” and the move towards extra-parliamentary politics.
Finally, I’d like to end with a few questions which I may perhaps take up at some other time: What might an analysis of the class composition of our given situation reveal today? Could a workers or a students or an unemployed workers enquiry reveal important hints about possible future forms of organisation? What is the relevance of Autonomia to our current struggles, what political resonance exists between these very different time/spaces?
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)
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.
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.