Monday, May 14, 2012

The State, Capital and Representation* by kpbsfs

Occasionally, the liberal-democratic system nobly affords us the chance to select our representatives from a shallow gene-pool of political management professionals. Save for this transient moment in the ballot booth, we’re separated from the exclusive franchise of governance altogether – voting is our only momentary and tenuous connection to the establishment. Best to leave power and responsibility up to the professionals; the experts, the think-tanks, policy-wonks, lobbyists and journalists. Just like any other specialised industry, with its own internal contradictions and power-relationships, the ‘political class’ is not a homogenised elite, united in a conspiratorial desire to oppress, control or get rich, but all of the actors in the political spectacle are moulded from the same clay. You see it as they slither through primaries and caucuses, TV spots and talk shows, ‘serious’ interviews and light-hearted features in glossy magazines, vying for the approval of a populace that has long since lost interest and learnt to take everything they say with a pinch of salt. The very existence of centralised government necessarily prefigures an exclusion, a separation, a surrendering of power for those who are not part of the political elite. Decision-making powers are delegated to the salaried statesmen, to be enacted by faceless and impenetrable bureaucracies – apparently the most efficient way to conduct the affairs of a modern, technological civilization – a self-perpetuating, self-propeling cycle of social reproduction, a mechanical propagation of the suited and enterprising class – the partisans of their own careers – in a true technocratic marvel. Their interests overlapping with the needs of capital, each greasing the wheels of the other, they form part of a giant social machine characterised by near total harmony between the state and the propertied classes. This does not presuppose a monolithic conception of government or capital as two united and homogenous units, but the interplay of differing interests within these bodies strengthens their grip on power, their sham plurality is the hallmark of representative democracy. But no-one in government is arguing over the fundamentals, they come together in a coefficient of affinity with varying levels – the party lines only differ in degree, like a choice between Pepsi and Pepsi-lite. Policy-makers nit-pick over the finer details but preserve the core, and in the wider population, in opinion polls, national elections and everyday conversation, ‘everyone is asked their opinion about every detail in order to prevent them having one about the totality.’ And so we’re left with a set of choices; pointless policy debates over taxation, budgets, bail-outs, bonuses, regulation – everything on the agenda is a set piece of fine-tuning and tweaking but never questioning the legitimacy of the whole - the social machine in its entirety. The boundaries are immediately set in stone and the possibilities limited, all alternatives positioned very much within the system, mounted comfortably within the discourses of the big government ‘left’ or the arch-capitalists of the right, until the most ardent anarchists start smashing windows in the name of welfare-statism – the strange spectacle of a black bloc protesting against government spending cuts. It is this reciprocity, the binary antagonism between two models of capitalism that furnishes the system with its ability to evolve, adapt and flow through crises and traumas. It is a mutually beneficial false opposition, a false dichotomy between interconnecting forces that are always the same in essence. Wasn’t the enfranchisement of the workers meant to herald a period of parliamentary socialism, even proletarian dictatorship? Who then could see the dynamics of representation and power? Elections and suffrage are no threat to networks of coercive power and domination, on the contrary, they are complimentary to it; they are its lifeblood and its pacemaker enabling its perpetual flows and transformations, its moral crutch to fall back on and its facelift signifying freedom, choice and liberty. Voting allows the system its pretensions. A great popularity contest to choose our masters, just as we would choose our school’s class monitors to make us more forgiving of the teacher’s cane. But we know the nature of representation; a refined manipulation and a gross con, yielding our own powers and potentialities to gangs of grinning, air-brushed thugs, to administer our own enslavement, to supervise and manage our own disenfranchisement with our mandate and our approval – ‘participation in our own alienation.’ The capitalist social machine has become so omnipotent and omnipresent that it demands our participation. There is no escape when every last corner of the world has been colonised by a tidal wave of nullity. We have no choice but to engage in capital’s grand theatre or live as hermits, retreating into self-indulgent madness. Every time we consume or produce (apparently we now vote with our purchasing power) we are party to the system, we inscribe ourselves on the social apparatus and prolong it further into posterity. The anarchist is no more a pretender in the polling station than in the supermarket. Far from screaming, ‘Rock the Vote’ and ‘Vote or Die’, or even encouraging a pragmatic approach to elections, we are pointing out that we are all collaborators, complicit in the maintenance of established systems of authority, and in our current decrepit situation whether we abstain, spoil the ballot or boycott, we still remain powerless to detach ourselves from capital’s yoke. What is to be done when we are faced, like the French in 2002, with a choice between a fascist and a reactionary old Gaullist? This kind of situation must be left up to people’s individual consciences. Our dilemma is how to built a decentralised, participatory and horizontal network of power outside the state and representative, mediating institutions and without haranguing, hijacking and recuperating by whatever special interests. This is no mean feat. But there can be no more dead-end election campaigns or membership drives, no more misplaced faith in the ability of government to do things they are incapable of doing, and no more seduction by the public relations men for the one candidate who ‘seems different to the rest’. K.P.B.S.F.S. *A version of this will appear in the Summer 2012 edition of Fifth Estate

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

John Holloway: Of Despair and Hope

To the misfits of the world, to all of us who do not conform to the closing of humanity: Now, more than ever, the world looks two ways at once. One face looks towards a dark, depressing world. A world of closing doors. A closing of lives, of possibilities, of hopes. These are times of austerity. You must learn to live with reality. You must obey if you want to survive, give up your dreams. Do not expect to live by doing what you like. You will be lucky to find a job at all. Perhaps you can study, but only if your parents have money. And, even then, do not think that you can study something critical. Criticism has fled from the universities and so much the better. What is the point of criticising when we all know that the world is set in its course? There is no alternative, just the reality of the rule of money, so forget your dreams. Obey, work hard in whatever scrap of employment you can find, or else look forward to a life of hunting through garbage cans, because there will be no welfare state to protect you. Look, look at Greece and be warned! That is the impoverishment you can expect, that is what will happen to you if you do not submit, that is the punishment meted out in this school of life to naughty children, to those who hope too much, to those who want too much. This lesson of despair was learnt very well, too well, by Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself in Sintagma Square in the centre of Athens just a few weeks ago. A 77-year old ex-pharmacist whose pension was wiped out by the austerity measures imposed by the governments of Europe, he said “I can find no other solution than to put an end to my life before I start sifting through garbage cans for my food.” This is the meaning of austerity. This is what the governments of Europe and the world are trying to impose on the people - all the governments, all of them alike the servants of money, whether they speak from apparent positions of power, like the German government or whether they are the simple functionaries of the international bank system, like Papademos or Monti. The austerity measures do not just impose poverty, they cut the wings of hope. That is the direction the world is heading in, but is that all there is? Is there no way we can turn the world around? Does the world not have another face, one that looks in a different direction? The death of Dimitris Christoulas faces in two directions: it is a despair, but also a refusal to accept despair. In his suicide note he writes “I believe that young people with no future will one day take up arms and hang this country’s traitors upside down in Syntagma Square just as the Italians hanged Mussolini in 1945.” Hope glows in the very depths of despair. The basis of that hope is a simple No. No, we will not accept. No, we will not accept what you are trying to do to us. No, we will not accept your austerity. No we will not accept the discipline of money, no we will not accept the killing of hope. No, we will not accept the obscene inequalities of this world we live in, no we will not accept a society that is hurtling us towards our own destruction. And no, we will not suggest alternative policies. We do not want to solve your problems because the only solution to the problems of capital is our defeat, the future of capitalism is the death of humanity. Even if capital solves this crisis, the next one will not be far away, even more destructive. We will not obey you, politicians-bankers, because you are the dead past, we are the possible future. The only possible future. That is our hope: we are the only possible future. But our possible future is no more than a possibility. Its realisation depends on our being able to turn the world around. How do we turn the world around? Dimitris Christoulas speaks of young people taking up arms and hanging the politicians from the lampposts. That idea grows more attractive by the day, and the politicians of the world know that it is not just fantasy: that is why in Greece they are afraid to go out in the streets, that is why in all the world they are giving more and more arms and powers to the police. Yet, however attractive the idea, it is not by arms that we can turn the world around and create something new. Our rage is of a different kind. Rage and love. Refuse and create. That is the only way we can turn the world around. Love walks hand in hand with rage, creation springs from refusal. We are the fury of a new world pushing through the foul obscenity of the old. Our fury is not the fury of arms – guns are their weapon, not ours. Our fury is the fury of refusal, of stifled creation, of indignation. Who are these people, the politicians and bankers who think they can treat us like objects, who think they can destroy the world and smile as they do it? They are no more than the servants of money, the vile and vicious defenders of a dying system. How dare they try to take our lives away from us, how dare they treat us like that? We refuse. We roar a massive NO that resounds through the world, but our refusal means little unless it is supported by an alternative creation. Our No to the old world will not hold unless we create a new world here and now. The anger of our refusal spills over into new creations. Representative democracy has failed and we build a real democracy in our squares, our meetings, our protests. Capital fails to provide the basics of life and we form networks of mutual support. Money destroys, and we say “No, we shall create a different logic and a different way of coming together”, and so we proclaim “no home without electricity” and organise the reconnection of the electricity supply whenever it is cut off. Debt-collectors come to take away our homes and we organise mass protests to stop them. People go hungry and we create community gardens. The drive for profit massacres human and non-human life and we create new relations, new ways of doing things. Capital pushes us off the streets and out of the squares and we occupy. All of this is inadequate, all is experimental, but that is the way to go, that is the other face of the present world, that is the new world of mutual recognition struggling to be born. Perhaps we cannot yet change the whole world to be as we want it, but we can create and we are creating it here and here and here and here and now, we are creating cracks in the system and these cracks will grow and spread and multiply and flow together. We will not accept the closing of the night on humanity. We can and will stop it, we shall turn the world around.

Written by John Holloway for May 1st 2012 General Strike pamphlets