Blog Archives

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?

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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

Autonomia Reading Group Session 2: The Changing Language of Politics

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.

 

New forms of organising such as Radio ALice in Bologna proliferated

 

Class (Re)Composition

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?

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