Burn Shit

K.P.B.S.F.S.

Slingshot Issue #109

Printed by the Slingshot Collective, Berkeley, CA

http://slingshot.tao.ca/

http://slingshot.tao.ca/displaybi.php?0109010 – read online at Slingshot’s website.

Fidel Castro and Hugo CHAVez sport tracksuits in solidarity with the revolting yoots.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

Gangsta-Capital

Whenever we watch MTV Cribs, we’re treated to a flaunting of extravagant wealth and hyper-tacky Hollywood opulence. Proud millionaires take us on strolls through their palatial dwellings, showing us the bed, ‘where the magic happens’, regaling us with name-drop tales of pool parties, award ceremonies and the obligatory thanks to God, family and fans for their wealth and success. This is often coupled with some horseshit about how their sickening hyper-affluence is all the more appreciated and deserved after, ‘a rough start’, ‘a difficult upbringing’ or ‘being from where I’m from’, followed by delicately-shrouded self-congradulatory praise for their own upward social mobility, seeing themselves – as they do – as the quintessence of the self-made man and the American Dream.

After a walk through the corridor (with some ADHD speed-up/slow-mo/two-second-cut camera effects and Jay-Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’ added in post-production) we’re taken to admire the DVD collection and the home cinema. Favourite film? Always Scarface. Always Scarface. Sometimes there’s even a stage-managed gathering of friends and revelers, joyously sharing in the fruits of the popular entertainment industry. This is aspirational television at its best.

We invariably get a little speech about why that OG, Tony Montana, is held in such high esteem by any self-styled Beverly Hills gangsta/Cribs host: How they have four copies of the special collectors edition DVD and a framed poster that reads, ‘Every Dog Has Its Day’. Now here’s the kind of man they can relate to; a man who’ll do all it takes to, ‘provide for his family’, ‘make that paper’, ‘get to the top’ etc. etc. etc. Isn’t it a curious choice of No. 1 film for a multimillionaire rapper? A film about the American Dream turned American Nightmare? About turbo-capitalist accumulation taken to its logical, violent conclusion? Our MTV anchor seems to miss the point entirely, seeing Scarface as an endorsement and glamorisation of a ‘money by any means’ mentality, a ‘Get rich or die trying’ aphorism of high-end drug-dealers and the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog individualism of the sociopathic narcissist that is Scarface. Accumulation of money, accumulation of status, accumulation of reputation, accumulation for the sake of accumulation. This is capitalism in its purest form. The apex of free-market economics. But somewhere the intended meaning of Scarface has been lost; the narrative of capitalism reaching a barbaric crescendo, and the old A-list pseudo-leftist, Oliver Stone must feel a slight disappointment that his script has gained so much kudos with aspiring Mafiosi and wannabe thugs.

The gangster, as a captain of the black market, makes a living in a parallel economy. Illicit trade, drugs, prostitution, racketeering, extortion, theft; he owes his fortune to an underworld that works outside the confines of ‘legitimate business practices’, but mimics the rules and structures of licensed corporatism with its own rigid hierarchies, territorial disputes, ruthless competition and the golden rule of supply and demand. Product and service. Buy for one dollar, sell for two. Extract value, appropriate surplus, expand territory. It’s the same game with the same rules, but with different merchandise and the possibility of a more aggressive service. The Hollywood gangster character isn’t dealing in metaphors or similes. What the films show is the actual essence of capitalism and the actual embodiment of the American Dream distortion, rather than just an anomaly, or a symptom of the failure of the system, that is the system in all its glory.

We counterintuitively admire the Gangster. Their Hollywood portrayals are charismatic and seductive. We gawp at the Corleones, Tony Soprano and Scarface. We like them because they’ve taken capitalism for its word. They’ve taken the abstract myth of the American Dream for reality and followed it through to it’s obvious conclusion… This is what you’ve taught us, now this is what we’ll do... Remember Milton Friedman, The Godfather of the neo-liberal project, said that when it came to narcotics, we should let ‘the invisible hand’ work its magic? Their bosses have all the material wealth of CEOs but without the delusions of legitimacy, or the pious assurances that their existence is both necessary and desirable for ‘job creation’, ‘satisfying a demand’, ‘finding a niche’ or ‘stimulating growth’. No pretension with the gangster. No justifications, no explanations – just profit. They embody capitalist aspiration, ambition and the entrepreneurial spirit in its rawest, most brutal form. They are the American Dream. And this is what all good Gangster films are about; they all improvise around the same scale, draw from the same theme – this is capitalism, this is the American Dream fallacy. How heavy-handed and frequent were The Wire’s brilliant parallels between drug gangs, government bureaucracies and ‘legitimate business’?

There’s no point engaging in any debates that differentiate between good businesses and bad businesses. Why draw an arbitrary line between the so-called ‘black market’ and the legitimate (white?!) one because we know it’s all the same filthy operation. All markets are ‘black’, and we reject the dichotomy and the Establishment’s sanctimonious nomenclature. The politician, the businessman, the police and the priest fight a war on drugs and a war on crime while they share tables with corporate executives at charity fundraisers, scratching each others backs and working the crowds. There’s no need to persuade that the whole system is rigged against us. Society is a racket. Capitalism is gangland warfare: Competing mobsters battling for the spoils of a 200-year mob-war.

We all love it when Al’s Michael cooly tells Pat Geary that they’re, ‘both part of the same hypocrisy, Senator.’

To be robbed with the sword by the gangster or to be robbed with the pen by the grinning regional manager? The latter character – the man offering us an honest days’ wage-labour, some state-sanctioned thievery and humiliation on a mass scale – pompously tells us it’s for our own good and that we should be thankful, grateful and glad. He cakes himself in respectability, bathing and believing in his own shit with the government as his bodyguard.

This isn’t a vindication of the Mafia. This is just a futile vilification of organised crime, that is, just another denunciation of capital in all its twisted forms, from we who hold Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Al Capone and John Gotti in the same low regard.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

Ranting About ‘The Help’

Films about civil rights. Films ‘about racism.’ Films dealing with, ‘the issues’: Hollywood commodities, usually sitting neatly as a comfortable sub-genre of heart-warming, tear-jerker dramas or inspirational thrillers. Crash, (not Cronenburg’s necrophiliac horror – although it could easily be mistaken, what with all the frenzied, neurotic/psychotic/paranoiac behavior by Sandra Bollocks et al) was a clumsy and heavy-handed study of race relations in post-11/9 America. But at least it offered some kind of analysis. One that went beyond a cursory, surface-level glance or a feel-good fable – even though it was a melodramatic, laboured and ultimately cold offering. This is more than can be said for, Tate Taylor’s, The Help.

Contender for the most racist film since Triumph of the Will, but without Leni Riefenstahl’s visionary cinematography. Excuse the hyperbolic provocations, but The Help makes us want to introduce the director’s smug fuckface to a flying brick. The story of a white saviour; an ambitious, go-getting journalist, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, on a personal crusade to liberate the subservient and docile black maids of Jackson, Mississippi (whilst simultaneously gaining a handsome journalistic reputation in the process).

Billed as a sort of inspirational, ‘injustice overcome’ story, The Help conforms to every tired and rigid stereotype in the Hollywood Catechism and applies the standard, formulaic, Oscar-hungry narrative structure to barely scratch the surface of the infinite complexities of the subject-matter it vainly attempts to communicate. Abandon all hope for three-dimensional characters. Abandon hope for a cogent exploration of the socio-economic conditions and human stories behind Jim Crow-era USA. Substitute that for the most obtuse racial cliches of either the dutiful, compliant, black housemaids (whose deference to their masters only falters with The Help‘(?!?!) of our white-knight journalist, Skeeter) or the ‘oh-no-you-dint-sassy-hip-shakin-finger-wavin-neck-jerkin-spunky-mmm…hmm-Afro-American’ female.

Would we be wrong in assuming that this film bills itself as some sort of ‘window into the past’? A ‘look how bad things used to be’ or ‘racism was bad’ historical yarn, told from our post-racial era, and to be admired and applauded by the Obama-voting generation, in a ‘look how far we’ve come’ and ‘look how much we’ve progressed’ self-congratulatory, woop-woop, cinematic-circle-jerk?

We can certainly presume from one of the final scenes, in which the new employer of one of the ‘sassy’ black maids so generously allows her to eat at the same table and use the same toilet as her master, (offering her a ‘job for life’ in the rich, white-picket-fence, suburban household), from this we can glean, from this we can presume, that all is now well in Jackson, Mississippi. The scene is set to a repulsive, violin-heavy musical score to make us feel all warm inside. This gross Spectacle had some moved to tears of joy.

For the employer’s noble offer of ‘a job for life’, substitute, ‘a life of servitude’. For his charitable invitation for the maid to shit in his toilet, read; improving the efficiency of the pre-established system by allowing the appearance of fairness and equality without changing the basic arrangement of domination and serfdom.*** Integration, assimilation and harmonisation in service of the wage-labour  economy. A minor adjustment – an adjustment in shitting arrangements – masquerading as progress, but truly in essence, just a mastering and fine-tuning of the techniques of subjugation. There is no qualitative change, no qualitative progress, no rebalancing of the master-slave dialectic – Just a thin veneer of justice been done to satisfy the grinning Spectators. The white journalist and the white employer has set her free with an indoor toilet and a job for life. After all, Arbeit Macht Frei.

When will they learn? The Help induced flashbacks of Schindler’s List. Oscar Schindler; the benevolent, war-profiteering, Aryan industrialist who saves the down-trodden, docile Jews from the gas chambers and suffers pangs of conscience in the end, crying, ‘I could have saved more! If I’d sold my Rolex! I could have saved more! My Bentley! 1000 More! This diamond ring! Another 1000!’ But at least Speilberg’s film actually managed to conjure some emotions from the audience. For The Help, in a scene that correlates almost exactly to Schindler’s conscientious outburst, our analogous white saviour, Skeeter offers a token, coy apology to her pliant maids, after being offered a job in New York owing to the commercial success of the passive negro tales that she so heroically recounted and published.

The black men in this film are either violent or absent altogether. There is no mention – save for a fleeting background TV news bulletin – of the waves of protest, the civil disobedience, the multitude of struggles, movements, riots, insurrections that were tearing up and burning down Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination and racial oppression from the bottom up. There is no frame of reference to place this small-town story or the small town characters in their wider context.

Forget The Help. If you’ve got some sort of masochistic desperation for a film that deals with racial oppression, racial tension or ‘the issues’ properly, re-watch Do The Right Thing or Manderlay instead.

***’If the worker and his boss enjoy the same television program and visit the same resort places, if the typist is as attractively made up as the daughter of her employer, if the Negro owns a Cadillac, if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation indicates not the disappearance of classes (nor racism), but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.’ (Marcuse)

K.P.B.S.F.S.

Boring Piece (Fo Yo Plagiarism) #1: Was Freud right when he claimed psychoanalysis is concerned with ‘social phenomenon’ including politics?

Sigmund Freud’s seminal texts on psychoanalysis sealed his position as the unofficial father of modern psychology. Whilst not subscribing to any explicitly political weltanschauung – or world-view – the idea that the study of the individual psyche was inseparable from the social psychology of the group underpins his work. His theoretical analyses of the unconscious mind and the concept of regression, libidinal development and its sublimation, the division of the mind into three antagonistic parts – Id, ego and superego, and the pleasure instincts and death drives inherent in all human beings are evidently attempts at explaining social phenomenon, currents and patterns of human behaviour that run throughout the history of civilisation. The significance and importance of psychoanalysis in the twentieth century is self-evident; the rise and fall of fascism and it’s quasi-masochistic ‘mob mentality’, the war of ideologies and the allure of their self-appointed leaders and vanguards, the rise in mental health problems and the incessant categorisation and sub-categorisation of diseases of the mind, the parallel growth of marketing, advertising and consumer psychology in the business world and public relations and spin in the world of politics – all symptomatic of a the Freudian assertion that the mind cannot be understood as a rational and coherent whole, but is in fact irrational, manipulatable and is shaped obliviously by desires and drives that we have no control over.

Modern consumer capitalism has artfully mastered the techniques of the manipulation of the psyche and even turned the practice into an industry in itself; advertising, public relations and marketing.  Advanced capitalism’s ability to exploit general tendencies in the human mind, particularly the unconscious mind has lead to a proliferation of a sophisticated propaganda racket that shapes public opinion and governs people’s behaviour. Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays saw this development in a highly positive light, arguing that, “intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society”, and that somewhat paradoxically to any vision of ‘democratic’ society the ‘socially necessary’ manipulators, “constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country”. Appropriately and true to his word, Bernays managed to re-brand his position as a propagandist by euphemistically renaming propaganda, ‘public relations’. The advertising and marketing industries have developed tried and tested techniques of selling commodities. The methods stem from the psychoanalytical idea of tapping into the unconscious, appealing to repressed desires, sublimating them through buying power and promises of personal fulfilment, empowerment, pleasure and strength through expenditure. We find our identities in what we buy and express our self through the commodities we own. Buying has become a process of self-affirmation and what we buy determines not only our status, but can signify our belonging to a group, our belief in an ideal or our loyalty to a brand. Consumer trends, fashion and fads are a testament to the relevance of ‘the herd instinct’ that Freud examines in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. In an appraisal of the work of Gustave Le Bon, Freud states that, “we have an impression of a state in which an individual’s separate emotion and personal intellectual act are too weak to come to anything by themselves and are absolutely obliged to wait till they are reinforced through being repeated in a similar way in the other members of the group.” Rampant consumerism, from a psychoanalytical point of view, can be seen as an expression of libidinal desires sublimated with ‘retail therapy’ or the instinctual drive of human beings to be part of ‘the herd’. The success of advertising is measured by its ability to convince potential consumers that a ownership of a certain product will guarantee them a place in that herd or that their fears, anxieties and internal conflicts can be resolved and pleasure attained through the simple act of buying.

A 1921 handbook for aspiring salesmen wrote that, “In a retail store, you have a wonderful chance to study human beings… Who are they? What are their chief characteristics? Why do they act and talk as they do? Where are they going? For what purposes do they buy various articles?” Rachel Bowlby points out, “an intimate connection, institutionally and intellectually, between psychology and marketing during the first forty years of this century and beyond.” As psychology became a separate discipline moving away from both philosophy and neurology, its primary concerns were entwined with the concerns of marketing experts – the scientific study of human behaviour and the human mind’s susceptibility to suggestion along with the impulses and desires of our psyches and subconscious and the exploitation of these desires. The consumerist ethic wasn’t too far removed from the ethos of psychology – an individualistic and almost narcissistic obsession with an irrational self and troubled and malleable ego, whilst promoting the idea that either psychotherapy or retail therapy can resolve internal mental instabilities.

According to Freud, the pleasure-seeking childlike part of the psyche – the Id – is repressed by artificial boundaries imposed on it by society which are internalised mentally and represented in the ‘superego’ of the mind. Our egos are an amalgamation of these two conflicting parts of the psyche, working in conjunction and opposition with both, striving after the pleasure principle sought after by the our primordial Ids whilst maintaining the respectability and socially appropriate behaviour demanded by our superegos. The ego is the part of the mind with the ability to exercise direct control over the body, as we try to reconcile our love-instincts and drives for pleasure with the innately repressive functions of our superegos which, “[displaying] particular severity and [raging] against the ego with the utmost cruelty” demand conformity and submission and cause an inevitable internal conflict that manifests itself in depression, anxiety, neuroses, pathology and sometimes hysteria that characterise modern ‘civilisation’. This categorisation of the minds three metaphysical sectors necessarily leads to an all-encompassing explanation of various social problems and phenomenon. Generalised internalised repression, first of our Oedipus complex (the precursor to our superegos), incestuous desires and primary identification with our patriarchal figures serves as a crucial stepping stone to understanding the widespread psycho-pathologies in human beings, as well a general explanation of our modern political structures which arise from a, “universalisation of the father-son relationship into a prototypical mould underlying all political formations.” Additionally, sublimation of crude, primary drives associated with our Ids and repressed libidos can, to some extent, satiate these drives. The creation of works of art, ‘progress’ in the sciences and technological invention, general interests and hobbies as well as obsession with the accumulation of more and more consumer goods which distinguishes our modern ‘civilisation’ from our primitive past are merely the reification of our abstract instinctual desires materialised and substituted for other socially constructed desires that fit in more neatly with the norms and values of our particular epoch. In Freudian terms, the anguish that we suffer due to the subjugation of our desires is partly avoidable. A, “technique for avoiding suffering makes use of the displacements of the libido that are permitted by our psychical apparatus… Sublimation of the drives plays a part in this… the artist’s joy in creating, in fashioning forth the products of his imagination, or the scientist’s in solving problems and discovering truths.” But Freud states in a typically elitist fashion that these palliative reliefs were reserved for only a small and privileged minority that posses the, “special aptitudes and gifts that are not exactly common.” This assumption is indicative of Freud’s tendency in his writings to reserve psychoanalysis and psychotherapy as a firmly bourgeois pursuit and see little or no hope in the crowd or masse seeking ‘higher pursuits’ or ‘socially useful’ ones to quash the instinctive pleasures of the Id.

We  could postulate that had Freud been alive today, to a degree he could have included social phenomena such as television, spectator sports, mainstream cinema or celebrity culture in a long list of, “powerful distractions, which cause us to make light of our misery, substitutive factions, which diminish it” and particularly, “intoxicants, which anaesthetise us to it.” It could easily be argued that the entire ‘Society of the Spectacle’ serves to lull all of us into an inertia that keeps us blissfully unaware of the causes of our collective miseries and frustrations. Disenfranchisement and apathy are the hallmarks of advanced consumer-(spectacular)-capitalism, along with civilisation’s distinctive features analysed by Freud that cause extensive damage to our mental and physical well-being and forbid the realisation of our desires and aspirations. But the organisation of the ‘Spectacle’, its invasion into every part of our daily lives and encroachment into our psyches keeps us all sufficiently docile and submissive, despite the very real internal antagonisms and contradictions imposed on us by the external world. “Those who organise the world organise both suffering and the anaesthetics for dealing with it; this much is common knowledge. Most people live like sleepwalkers, torn between the gratification of neurosis and the traumatic prospect of a return to real life.” Psychoanalysis and especially psychiatry has, to some extent, become part of the repressive machinery of society. It has been co-opted and put into use as a lubricant for the cogs of oppression and can therefore be defined as a tool not just for explaining social phenomenon, but for keeping social, political and economic structures in place and consequently is a highly politicised discipline. The Foucauldian notion that psychiatry, like all other specialised branches of knowledge, science and ideology, has become part of a vast superstructure of oppressive control and manipulation here rings true.

The view that people’s actions in ‘civilised’ societies are governed not by their rational and logical decision-making capacities (but rather by the complex and often unconscious interplay of hostile elements of the mind) is echoed by several contemporary ‘anti-civilisation’ thinkers, who can loosely be described as ‘primitivists’ or ‘neo-luddite’. Themes in Freud’s analysis of civilisation, its discontents and the inescapable psychological and social harm that results from the onset of an ‘advanced organisation of society’ influence the work of Theodore Kaczynski and his pamphlet Industrial Society and Its Future. But for Kaczynski, a well-established and prevailing sense of powerlessness, anxiety and mental instability exists not due to the internal repression of Oedipal desire or early traumatic experiences, but because of a the regulation of our lives by large-scale organisations and the lack of influence people have over their own lives. However, this isn’t by any means a radical departure from Freudian thinking. Whereas Freud’s psychoanalytical standpoint blames an almost factional dispute between superego and id on the incontinuity of the self, Kaczynski puts down the lack of any autonomous decision-making or ‘power processes’ in the creation of entire populations of psychologically perturbed subjects. But as in the texts of Freud, sublimation of real needs and desires for what Kaczynski describes as ‘surrogate activities’, is seen as a necessary prescription for people living in a society where mental health is, “defined largely by the extent to which an individual behaves in accord with the needs of the system and does so without showing signs of stress.” Freud’s sublimation can be directly equated with Kaczynski’s concept of ‘surrogate activities’ – “an activity that is directed toward an artificial goal that people set up for themselves merely in order to have some goal to work toward, or let us say, merely for the sake of the ‘fulfilment’ that they get from pursuing the goal.” These activities serve the purpose of what Freud calls, “palliative relief”’ from, “the life imposed on us [that is] too hard for us to bear: it brings too much pain, too many disappointments, too many insoluble problems.” And yet a crucial difference separates Freud and Kaczynski’s two perspectives on ‘civilisation’ and the problems that arise from it. For Kaczynski, an advocate of anarcho-primitivism, the inhuman social phenomenon and organisation of society that arise from ‘progress’ and ‘advancement’ is entirely avoidable, whereas Freud sees this as inevitable, necessary and preferable to the alternative of barbarism and submission to the whims of individual egos. Freud’s inclination towards authoritarian systems of governance or perhaps reluctant acceptance of such methods of social organisation are born out of his fear of what he called the, “psychological malaise of crowds” and a “bias against those whom he called ‘the masses.’” His absolute belief in the pleasure principle lead him to adopting a sort of utilitarian-realist perspective that the best vehicle for the  attainment of this pleasure in a balanced and measured (i.e; the long-term achievement of this absolute goal without descending into anarchic lawlessness) was, “to give way to a middle course between total satisfaction and complete renunciation… for Freud, liberation and real pleasure always demand a self-restraint which is predicated on the internalisation of authority.” In this way, a total acceptance of Freudian psychoanalysis is reactionary, conservative and must essentially be precluded by an acceptance of a pessimistic Hobbessian view of human beings as morally bankrupt, feral and self-destructive in their very nature. Human beings, for Freud are too volatile and untrustworthy not to be controlled by some external authority, the pros of civilisation vastly outweigh the cons and all of us, ‘the masses’, being unable to effectively manage our own psychic emotions must submit to servitude and be managed by others. Authority is legitimised and the very worst features of ‘civilisation’ justified, “to overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive for aggression  and self-destruction.” Nevertheless, like all critiques of civilisation the analysis is pointed towards the discord caused by the battle between individuals and society, an important dichotomy that for Freud, unlike radical primitivist and left-libertarian theory, can never be fulbly resolved, but only be mediated, controlled and limited.

In many respects, psychoanalysis could be accused of externalising and applying too universally personal neuroses and turning individual mental characteristics and psychic problems into all-encompassing explanations of social phenomena (including political structures) without placing these phenomena in their historical, cultural or social context. Applying, “to large-scale social processes and institutions the concepts and categories which he had developed on the private realm” Freud universalised his essentialist views on the individual psyche and attempted to explain all social phenomena through a rigid psychoanalytic grid that he himself had constructed a priori. Freud’s analysis of ‘crowd mentality’, particularly his explanations for the desire of people to be dominated by often tyrannical leaders (on a historical note, he resided in Vienna during Hitler’s Anschluss with Austria in 1938) is no exception but does nevertheless pose interesting questions and invite debate on engaging explanations of leadership, totalitarianism and humanity’s appetite for destruction. In Group Psychology Freud sets about analysing the psychological reasons for the allure of leaders. This broad social phenomena is again analysed from a purely psychological perspective. The leader for Freud inherits the position of the patriarch, the authority figure that provides grounding and imposes regulations, rules and absolutes in a chaotic and disturbing world. His popularity is dependant on his ability to embody unchanging moral values, convey an ordered vision of the world and bind together the mass of individuals, uniting the crowd behind them. Freud had little reservations about describing the relationship between charismatic leaders and obedient crowds as erotic – “what can unite thousands or millions of people is the relation – and the libidinal investment of this relation – of each one of them to a leader (political, religious or military) or an idea occupying the position of… a common point of reference.” The effect of this libidinous attraction is absolute adoration, servitude and willingness to submit. Seductions of power and the authority figure stem not just from personal admiration or ‘libidinal investment’, but also the enticement of being part of the crowd and the regression to the ‘herd instinct’. “What happens is that the members of the crowd are hypnotised (and that is the word Freud uses) by the leader. The leader takes place of the over-I… What he offers to individuals is a new psychological dispensation. Where the individual super-ego is inconsistent and often inaccessible because it is unconscious, the collective super-ego, the leader, is clear and absolute in his values.” The atrocities committed by ordinary people under Nazi rule in Austria give credence to the Freudian concept of the death drive. Their success and popularity lay in their willingness to allow people to commit barbarous and forbidden acts, to unleash the primordial instincts of their Ids without restraint against persecuted minorities and scapegoats, but still remain within the parameters of a new fascist legitimacy. They created a new moral order in which people could resolve their antagonisms and internal human ambivalence in collective acts of  barbarism and death-driven passion in events like Kristallknacht. “’The aim of all life,’ Freud famously declared, ‘is death.’” We are prone to seek in death a resolution that we cannot achieve in life. These abominations allowed a discharge of all the anxieties and contradictions described by Freud that had been bound up in the human psyche. All the negative traits of the human mind, “the weakness of intellectual ability, the lack of emotional restraint, the incapacity for moderation and delay, the inclination to exceed every limit in the expression of emotion” were let loose as people were given licence to, “work it off completely in the form of action.” His conclusions go some way to explaining his deep-seated scepticism of states of anarchy and unbridled expressions and manifestations of instinctual drives that for Freud, would undoubtedly lead to acts of barbarity. The mistrust of a hypothetical chaotic ‘state of nature’ in which the psyche is freed without external control or the mediation of the super-ego, and the consequent support of a politically conservative but completely necessary form of hierarchical government can be  understood in this light.

To conclude, Freud is correct in his assertion that psychoanalysis is concerned with social phenomenon and can the discipline be a useful and radical tool in explaining various political structures and cultural and societal trends. However, Freudian psychoanalysis in particular has a tendency to equate individual psychiatric trends with generalised trends in society. The individual and the social are inextricably linked, however, the result of universalising and generalising psychoanalysis to explain political and social phenomena often means that events are taken out of their historical and economic context and placed in a sometimes unsuitable framework and viewed from a doctrinaire perspective.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

The London Insurrections – Again*

‘Britain is Sick.’ The headline was correct, of course, but for all the wrong reasons. Not so long ago, many people in the country found solace on the weekend of an aristocratic wedding. It felt nice to all unite behind the new ‘People’s Princess’ and her thoroughly modernised royal spouse. How nice it was to forget about crises and austerity on an extra bank holiday so generously granted to us by the Old Etonians of Parliament. A collective hysteria and jingo spectacle gave us a sense of belonging and even purpose. The pseudo-participation of a royal parade, a street party, the flag-wavig and cheering, a country unanimous in its appreciation of Royal tradition and ‘THAT dress’ and Pippa’s arse – these are what define us; the people, the nation, the values, the heritage – Britain 2011. Still cool Britannia, still the historical convention and ancient mores, the stiff upper lip and the salt of the earth, but adapted to the 21st century. Thank God for British Exceptionalism: Over the last few centuries a reforming establishment has maintained relative calm and a docile populace whilst their European counterparts – the governments and monarchs of the continent – have struggled to contain their own rebels, radicals and agitators.

Fast forward to August. We already knew this ludicrous narrative was a myth, and one that has been exploded repeatedly by the spontaneous outbursts of a swindled people. This odd notion of a parochial, gradualist, mind-your-own ‘nation of shopkeepers’ is nothing but an idealised abstraction – a fallacious, Whiggish interpretation of history that suits conservative tastes. The insurrections of the summer were borne of an intense rage and disaffection. What we witnessed was a jumbled, chaotic response to the shit the status quo is throwing at us, the end of a delicate inertia, a loud awakening from a frustrated sleep in which ‘protest’ was generalised to the point where everything was a target and everything was there for the taking. It was a protest without demands, a rebellion without a cause, a display of nihilistic anger launching itself against the totality. No platform, manifesto or programme, no leadership demanding some reform or the repeal of some piece of legislation, but a succession of confused acts of destruction that were characterised by a refusal of all the conditions of everyday life in post-industrial capitalism. A direct assault on the commodity form and the temporary halt of our retail rituals as people’s deep resentiment and fury manifested itself against the high-street chainstores, just as they discovered payment for the exalted merchandise was now optional.

The London Riots had been a long time coming. (Insert comparisons with the 80s here – social unrest, Royal weddings, increased industrial militancy, Tory government, poor Police/community relations, blah, blah, blah.) Mark Duggan’s death was a spark in a tinderbox. The financial crisis and the subsequent corporate bailouts exposed the system for what it really is in essence: parasitic, dead Capital, feeding off living labour, based on state-sanctioned and legitimate looting. It was high time the residents of Tottenham, Peckham, Liverpool and Manchester engaged in some of their own mass-expropriations. Call it a proletarian bailout. Qualitative Easing.

Was this short-lived revolt a hyper-capitalist display of the consumerist ethic in dangerous overdrive; the quick accumulation of sweat-shop commodities and status-symbols by a decadent youth corrupted by… grime and hip hop music!?!? The mass-shoplifting opened the floodgates of materialist false-needs and desires, but here in the place of payment-at-the-till was a liberation of all these goods from their status as commodities. Instead of a price-tag was a debased and subverted exchange value – no money to perform its regulatory function, no currency to mediate or restrict – a free-for-all (re)distribution in which we took in reality all that is promised to us by advertising in abstraction. Retail capital’s feeble defence left wide open by roaming teenagers who were realising, physically and directly, that the system only works this way because we allow it. And for a short time during the insurrections, the system was at their mercy.

As the looted sportswear, phones, nappies, booze and food were strewn over the roads in London, the carnival quickly spread to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. These rioters have no ideology, no political affiliation and no leadership. This is what makes them uncontrollable and dangerous. This is where their strength lies. They couldn’t have been bought off with any concession or placated by the promise of an independent enquiry: Michael Heseltine’s Garden Festival has lay in ruins for years. Theirs was a total revolt, albeit a muddled and disjointed one. What it showed was an untapped potential, a disorder that exposed the weak, vulnerable Paper Tigers of authority when faced with an enraged mob with nothing to lose. Of course we can adopt the language of the media/press; these rioters were just selfish, opportunistic chavs, yobs, hoodies, gangs, proles, lumpen. Or we can start borrowing from the politicians’ diatribes; these riots weren’t political, they were motivated by nothing but greed. So they say. But if we take them for their word, what could be more political than greed? This is the ultimate threat to the present (dis)order – not the Trade Union ‘movement’ or the phoney left: The former being all too cosily rooted in its historical role of integrating workers into wage-labour peaceably, acting as arbiter between labour and capital and channeling all the frustrations and grievances of their membership into nice moderate demands (or polite requests) for quantitative increases in wages or conditions, with paid bureaucrats destroying any genuine militancy or desire  with negotiation, compromise and pay settlements. The ‘radical’ left meanwhile, are still soaked with patronising, vanguardist rhetoric and are still committed to the tired old modes of paper-pushing, representation and hierarchical organising. Capital’s gravediggers are the recalcitrant youth, the criminals, the unemployed and the unemployable who refuse most vehemently to be absorbed into societies’ racket.

Presently, there is no political consciousness among them. No concept of the possibilities, no concept of what could be. What unites them is a shared disaffection, a general discontent and a visceral and innate hatred of the police as the most visible figures of state authority in our communities. We have not seen the (material) ‘immiseration’ of the proletariat that Marx predicted and Bakunin shunned. The ‘massification’ of the workers that He foresaw, and the advent of organised labour did not lead to our world revolution. Taylorism, scientific management, standardisation, increased division of labour, de-industiralisation and the rise of the service economy, Trade Unionism, cheap credit, embourgeoisement and our beloved social safety-nets (through which no-one can fall?) are all part of the same social pacification package. As alienation, drudgery, uniformity and apathy have become the omnipresent hallmarks of our society, we have seen the corresponding perfection of assimilation techniques that have lulled many into a dull passivity. The decades of the white-collar working class, the extraction of surplus value from our cognitive labour, post-fordism, the promises and the myths of social mobility, the paternalistic welfare state, – through which we depend on Big Government for our very survival – the huge erray of products available to all who are willing to sell themselves over on a temporary contract with flexible hours, the plasma screens that allow us some vicarious respite from the commute, the boss, the office politics and the staff meeting, the choices in fashion and gadgets that define us and communicate who we are through the Order of Signs and Symbols, our decision to choose one ‘Made in an Eastern Workhouse’ iTwat over another. What does your phone say about you? I am Mercedes. I am what I am. I am Nikon. I’m the kind of liberal/creative type that uses a Macbook. I’m the kind of busy, metropolitan man that needs a Blackberry. Consumption, separation, representation, mediation, alienation. Late capitalism’s ‘Bread and Circuses’. And then the riots that shit on all that, whether consciously or not. A Grand Rejection of everything that’s been used to buy us off and keep us kneeling.

It goes without saying that houses going up in flames in London’s ghettoes is no call for celebration. It is also obvious that we’d have no moral qualms if they’d instead burnt out the luxury apartments of Chelsea Harbour, the offices of Canary Wharf or better still, raided the mansions of Surrey stockbrokers. But we’ll shed no tears over the charred skeleton of the SONY warehouse, the Pawn-brokers on Peckham high street or the Brixton Nandos. It is telling that swarms of police occupied the shopping districts around Oxford Street and stood guard, fiddling outside the retail Cathedrals of the West End while the suburbs burned. It is also worth mentioning a message on the so-called ‘Peckham Peace Wall’ which reads, ‘Take it to Parliament, Not to Peckham’, and the unsurprising prevalence of, ‘Feds had it coming’ post-its, or words to that effect. But the rioters lashed out against their own immediate surroundings, against the familiar. Some even smashed through the windows of the stores in which they worked. Isn’t it obvious why? The square mile and the City of London are worlds away. Their violence had to be directed against the embodiments of arbitrary power on their streets, and not only the police. The glass facades of Carphone Warehouse and Footlocker, the purveyors of well-marketed signifiers of social status and identity, who compensate staff with five pounds for every hour of tedium and humiliation and somehow expect diligence and loyalty – these were the first to go. These are the sources of our modern malaise and simmering ennui, and they deserve no more respect than the Palace of Westminster or the Tory HQ at Millbank. The rioter never gave them any.

Many on the left have only talked of ‘social exclusion’, as if our society was normally an edifice of peaceful relations that had somehow managed to forget about an ostracised ‘underclass’. As if the solution could be more ‘social inclusion’; to reabsorb these lumpen malcontents into the world of wage-labour and civil society, to guarantee them a future of minimum wage drudgery and voter registration twice a decade – some participation, some inclusion in the racket. After the banlieue uprisings in 2005, someone wrote; ‘Those who have found less humiliation and more advantage in a life of crime than in sweeping floors will not turn in their weapons, and prison wont teach them to love society.’

*A version of this will appear in Slingshot Issue 109
slingshot

K.P.B.S.F.S.

There’s a Class War on, Dickhead. Pick a Side.

For all postmodernism’s rejections of totalising systems, utopian ideologies and socially-constructed binaries, there’s always the seduction of the old class line, the red (and/or black) banner of world revolution and the fight against the unitary systems of oppression; the state and capital. There’s comfort in the politics of ‘us and them’; a sense of belonging, shared identity and even a self-pitying, self-perpetuating victimhood. The conspiracy theory is the zenith of totalising socio-political ideas. They superimpose order and meaning where there is none, give a unified and total explanation for what is, a formulaic dual reduction and simplification of all the world’s ills into byproducts of our subjugation by secret global cabals; the Illuminati, the Bilderberg Group or the Jews. Power lies with invisible elites, who reveal themselves (to taunt or to leave us some clues?) only through ancient symbols in government-corporate architecture and dollar-bills or coded numerology.

Marxism offers us liberation as a historical inevitability. It’s a cosy set-up whereby a dialectic of opposing forces pushes us forth towards our communist destiny. The proletariat, as a uniquely revolutionary social category, is fated to usher us into an epoch of social harmony after the resolution of its antagonisms with the bourgeoisie, via world revolution and a transitory stage of socialist dictatorship. Well isn’t that lovely? It has the same morbid attraction of organised religion; the promise of a utopian future, of a linear progression of time with a teleological end, of salvation through sacrifice to a cause and devotion to a philosophical abstraction. Marxism has solved all the quandaries. It has all the answers. It has reduced the irreducible multiplicities and struggles into a war between the bourgeois and the proletariat, identifying capital as the unitary source of concentrated power from which all domination emanates. Simple – it’s them and us. Eliminate them, and all will be well. Eliminate the base, collectivise the means of production, and all else – the whole intricate superstructure of power; its techniques, subtleties and flows – will fall into place.

This leads to an arrogance that allows the various Marxist parties to declare themselves ‘the vanguards’ of the proletariat. Just as a religious sect anoints itself as the key to redemption and deliverance of sin whilst damning and denouncing all the other pious cults to hell, the Marxists parties promote themselves as the keepers of the keys of proletarian revolution, accusing the members of rival Marxist acronyms of being petit-bourgeois, reformist, sectarian, ultra-left, idealist, or even Zionist/Imperialist stooges.

Onwards to the ‘transitional phase‘, as the Central Committee see to it that the state withers away as quickly as possible. Everything surrendered to the workers’ state, the benevolent managers and the administrators, in the promise of communism tomorrow, the next generation, or one after, just as soon as we get around to solving all those ‘class antagonisms’. Marxist consequentialism and Hegelian historicism crushed the rebellion at Kronstadt, the Makhnovist army in Ukraine and the workers’ councils of Spain, all for the greater good, for a warped utilitarian ethic where everything can (and was) sacrificed for the higher ideal, for the realisation of the Marxist prophecy, for the forward march of history and for the proletarian dictatorship.

Anarchism by contrast embraces a prefigurative politics; one where means is not subordinated to ends and theory is not separated from practice. Direct action by ad hoc groups of individuals takes precedence over struggles mediated by representational hierarchies and rigid organisational structures. But anarchism does not depart too much from the politics of ressentiment, it does not usually refuse the delineation of the world into two economically-determined camps – 1% vs. 99%, and it has not abandoned the illusory goal of an Eudaimonian paradise on earth – one without anxiety, antagonism and struggle. It still cherishes the end target of total social harmony.

Primitivists have tried to convince us that before civilisation, before The Fall, there was a paradise akin to the Elysian wonderland of the naked Adam and Eve of the Western creation myth, in which people and nature were one, in which property and class were anathema and humanity shared in abundance. Zerzan eulogises a lost existence; an unalienated, unmediated and unworried life. Who knows if it ever was? What can an anarchist anthropology offer in this regard? In our current situation, we have to drop this quasi-religious faith in a coming nirvana and regressive nostalgia for an age we have never lived. The post-1968 poststructuralist/postmodernist turn apparently leaves us at a kind of apolitical, nihilistic impasse in its rigorous deconstruction of all meta-narratives, identities and ideologies. Rather than seeing this ‘body of knowledge’ as an excuse for inactivity, we should see it as jumpstart. We have to drop this creed of optimism in a remote heaven. Stop romanticising an ever-illusive working class identity. Realise revolution as a perpetual process, a constant becoming and not an end to be achieved absolutely. Embrace multiplicity and difference with a politics of desire, not duty and self-sacrifice. “I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires.” Some have called this post-anarchism, a new theoretical category that seems mostly based around circle-jerk sessions in university seminar rooms. But this is what we have always understood anarchism (without a pre-fix) to be. Initially attractive as an alternative to the dreariness of the Marxist left, anarchism was about doing things in the here and now, not waiting in vain for The Crisis and pushing papers, waving the flag, listening to speeches for a the approaching revolution or the hotly-anticipated resolution of social strife.

So there’s a class war on, dickhead, pick a fucking side. We can reconcile our wishy-washy-posty-moderny tripe with this simple statement anytime we like: When we see police beating rioters, when the young looters are locked up for years while bankers are rewarded handsomely for their thievery, when millionaire governments strip away the livelihoods of vulnerable and disenchanted people. When benefits that were won by the struggles of the multitude are attacked and we are told, ‘we’re all in this together’, we see no contradiction in fighting on the side of ‘the oppressed’, but we do so without any illusions. We’ll not deny the existence of class, but we’ll accept it as something dynamic and unstable, with no fixed or homogenous identity, and certainly not as something defined by your non-ownership of capital or the selling of your labour, since even the modern bank-manager or PR man must sell himself in order to survive. And we’ll accept economic oppression as one of a myriad of oppressions, and not the proletariat as some uniform bloc of subdued charity-cases from a Lowry print, reminiscing over the days of a show of hands and a ‘we’re on strike, lads’, the salt-of-the-earth pickets and the struggles of times gone by. Rhizomatic power is pushing in all directions and across class boundaries. There is no centre of power, no simple, neat IWA pyramid, only intersecting practices of power. We can’t reduce everything down to the bourgeois/proletarian dialectic. At the same time, we can refuse and resist economic oppression and exploitation without falling prey to the dogma of universalising ideology or doctrinaire statements about ‘historical agents’ and ‘proletarian awakenings.’ It can be called taking the side of the workers if you like, or taking the side of the exploited. If there’s a hypocrisy in this position then fine, we’ll embrace the inconsistency.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

How Facebook Changed the World

This recent BBC documentary was even more galling in its content than in its ridiculous title. To confuse cause with means so clumsily, and belittle the more-than commendable achievements of the street-fighters, occupiers, insurgents and insurrectionists of the ‘Arab Spring’ by attributing the success of their movements to Zuckerberg’s ‘revolutionary’ social network. Facebook was indeed a key tool in organising the tumultuous overthrow of Tunisia and Egypt’s dictatorial regimes, but let’s not get carried away with the smug technophilia. Facebook changed the world in 2011 inasmuch as the telegram changed it in 1917, the telephone changed it in 1968 and television changed it in 1989.

What is the real impact of the internet and facebook in a more general sense? Real community replaced by online community. Real debate and discussion replaced by forums, ‘likes’ and youtube comments. Real living replaced with vicarious experiences in online gaming and virtual worlds. Facebook’s position in all of this is that of the ultimate Simulacra, the ultimate Representation. Each individual is mapped on a vast network of separated subjects, with their own quirky ‘profiles’ as the digital projections of the self. Individuals who have constructed an immaterial relief of their personalities online, whose lived experience is recorded and logged in the ‘statuses’, ‘comments’, ‘likes’, ‘attendings’ and ‘not attendings’ of facebook’s Grand Simulation.

The genius of facebook lies in the semblance of participation it provides; the ability of users to comment, join groups, create events, add friends, and choose the profile picture that most suitably represents, defines and epitomises them. Our lifestyles are laid bare in a succession of computerised images that we can filter, crop and tag so that they truly encapsulate the mood of the night. The facebook profile is the surrogate self, the alternative ego expressed through images. Controlling and managing our identities, our own digital understudies. Sifting through a days-worth of banal newsfeed – a wonderful substitute for actual contact and conversation. Seeing how our semio-friends are doing in their second-lives. The facebook medium separates us more than it connects us. The participation it offers is only participation in our own alienation. It is a debased substitute for the Real, a meaningless collection of digitised images and signs that mediate the experiences of everyday life. Vicarious living, self-improvement through self-projection, secondary experience, indulging our tedious curiosities about the lives of others – these are the main functions of the social network.

All this without even mentioning the implications for personal privacy or the hoarding of data and information for use in market research, targeted advertising, consumer surveys, police investigations and whatever else The Corporation deems appropriate. Facebook can be a useful tool for organisation, but we must not exaggerate it’s potential as a catalyst for emancipation, rather we should realise its obvious limits – that it is perhaps the most advanced and ingenious technology of spectacular domination.

Facebook produces docile bodies and docile minds. Entire populations connected in abstraction but separated more than ever in reality. It is a highly-addictive social anesthetic that exemplifies the tedium and superficiality of late capitalism. Consistent with facebook’s global takeover, we’ve seen the rise of the ‘slacktivists’ and ‘clicktivists’, a particularly obnoxious breed of activist-militants, who boost the radical credentials of their online selves (and surely get a perverse sense of self-satisfaction) when they ‘Like’ the Robin Hood Tax or join the ‘I Hate David Cameron’ group, changing the world one step at a time, without ever leaving their bedrooms. Such a blatantly ineffectual substitute for direct action and unmediated struggle – the online petition – but one that provides the appearance of action and a veneer of participation, and after all, what appears is good and what is good appears. Dissent is signified, accepted, encouraged, incorporated, commodified and reduced to a simple click – channeled into the cyber-Symbolic realm of facebook.

Politics is what happens in everyday life. Facebook is a denial of life, it is life’s poor substitute, it is what happens when life stops, it is the pinnacle of post-industrial-consumer-spectacular-capitalism’s degradation of existence and the perfect encapsulation of our alienation, separation, mediation and banality.

Off facebook and onto the streets.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

All Out N30

Good luck to the millions of strikers out tomorrow, but to hell with the union bureaucrats and the labour aristocracy. Let’s make a bonfire of membership cards and make this strike indefinite. Let’s occupy the workplaces and form workers’ councils. Let’s demand more than just final salary pension schemes; the abolition of alienated labour, the dissolution of parliament and David Cameron’s head on a spike.

The Trade Union movement has always been about mediation, compromise and representation. Token militant rhetoric to appease the rank-and-file, from the arbiters between labour and capital whose conciliatory function dampens the genuine radicalism of an alienated and disenchanted workforce. Their field of vision has never extended beyond wages and conditions.

British trade unionism, with its paid officials, reformist outlook, hierarchical structures and it’s ongoing love-affair with the Labour Party, cannot be a vehicle for genuine emancipation any more than Brendan Barber can claim to represent the strikers on the picket lines tomorrow. He and his ilk fantasise about a cosy relationship with a social-democratic Labour government; with ‘beer and sandwiches at number 10′, awarding themselves six-figure salaries for organising and disciplining their membership, channeling any desire for qualitative change into just another wage dispute. Conservative government and austerity gives them a useful opportunity to assume the role of the radical, the defenders of the proletarian interest, the suited and booted workers’ vanguard. They can now up the rhetoric and call a symbolic 24-hour stoppage, play militant and enter into a mutually beneficial tug-of-war with government, whereby the Bullingdon Club can get tough on organised labour (in full view of the Murdoch-Desmond-formerly-Rothermere press) and the union bureaucracy can flex their muscles and show their members that they truly have their best interests at heart, giving them a reminder of why they pay those dues.

A strike needs to be wild, uncontrollable and unmediated. It shouldn’t go through the proper channels or confine itself with due process, legality or the pre-arranged 1-day time-frame dictated by whatever union lackey. It should be accompanied by a healthy dose of rioting, sabotage, occupations, street-parties, road-blocks and arson.

ALL OUT ON NOVEMBER 30TH.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

The State of Revolution

2011 – It seems the whole world is teetering on the edge of a wonderful oblivion. Stable authoritarian regimes have been toppled by their restive subjects, a tyrant beaten and dragged through the streets by a band of armed insurgents. Egyptians are now back on the streets and in the squares, reinvigorating what seemed like a revolution betrayed by hangers-on from the ancien regime. Across the world, resistance against austerity drives and finance capital is mounting, and in England a police shooting led to three nights of sustained rioting, looting and arson that spread across the country via Blackberry. European capital’s wet-dream of a single-currency trading bloc is on its deathbed as Greeks defend themselves against EU-IMF gangsters with strikes, occupations and molotovs. Italy and Spain will soon follow suit.

Today there is no unified struggle against systems of oppression because there is no unified system of oppression. Never has this been more evident than now. Rather than conceiving of the world in terms of an oppressing ‘top’ and an oppressed ‘bottom’, what we have is a whole series of scattered and interconnected power relations that transcend narrow ideological boundaries. Similarly, resistance is both diffused and connected. There is a burgeoning multitudinous opposition that takes a variety of forms. The days of the counter-hegemonic opposition; party, union, leadership and vanguard are over, as they have been subsumed into a growing collage of movements; extra-parliamentary, de-centralised, autonomous and heterogenous. Opposition and revolt is now a constellation of spontaneous, uncontrollable eruptions that work outside the old structures. There is no one movement constrained by a single abstract ideological purism, unified identity, posturing leadership, or the dogmas of a totalising universal system. The occupiers from New York to Cairo, the banlieusards, the rioters in London and Damascus, the squatters, Abahlali baseMhondolo, the MEND, the EZLN: With no common identity, manifesto, flag, banner or over-arching representative body, no mediator, rather a plurality of identities and (often antagonistic) subjectivities, they form a matrix of agonistic forces united in their refusal of the status quo – a multitude in constant flux.

It’s about time we dropped all the teleological ‘our day will come’ bullshit. Anarchism never quite divorced itself from Marxism. It’s still hanging on to Enlightenment baggage and waiting for that one cataclysmic event that’ll usher in a utopian epoch – the end of antagonisms, the end of history. Many still see history as a history of class struggles that will eventually culminate in a kind of Hegelian Grand Synthesis. We must ditch the millenarianism and embrace revolution as a never-ending process rather than an end. We have to stop waiting for Godot. Anarchists have always been better at fusing means with ends, theory with practice, but some still mourn the passing of the blue-collar worker, the urban-industrial proletariat, the unionised producers on the factory-line as the only true agents of social change. Some cling to a syndicalist vision of ‘one big union’ and organising for The General Strike like a life-buoy. It’s not that we should ‘abandon class’ or deny the existence of class relations, but we should realise class as one part of an aggregate of oppressive power relations, not flowing down a neat line from bourgeois institutions to proletarian masses, but emanating from a number of directions, reproducing itself through us as subjects. We should stop defining ourselves in relation to the means of production. This crude economism is of no use to us. Bourgeois/Proletarian is not a clear-cut binary, it’s exalted status as the primary oppression and the Source of all other oppressions masks a far more deeply ingrained and disturbing network of power relations that reproduce themselves through each individual as the products of power. We do not deny the exploitation of employees by employers, nor the uneven distribution of power and wealth, but we see these as elements of multiple sequences of domination that go beyond the reductive categories of ‘worker’ and ’employer’. In the panoptical society, we all have a cop inside us. Power is not some external entity working against us, but something which we internalise and reproduce.

2011 has seen various struggles escalate all over the world. The insurrections and occupations are playing with new forms, affirming new possibilities and realising their own powers and potentials. Infinite, irreducible subjectivities, continually changing and becoming, negating and affirming, destroying and creating without institution, without unitary theory or binding abstract truth, acting autonomously-within-solidarity.

K.P.B.S.F.S.

The Occupy Movement

Four Nuisances in Occupy:

1. A Growing Obsession With Demands – The New York Times quotes one occupier; ‘We absolutely need demands… power concedes nothing without a demand.’ The Occupy Seattle website has a number of policy polls for demands ranging from, ‘universal education’ to ‘end corporate personhood.’ Astonishingly, many of the NYC protesters see fit to work towards a set of ultimatums for the politicians in Washington to consider. With unparalleled political naivety, some think it best for their representatives in Congress to take final responsibility for ‘fixing’ capitalism. It seems many protesters cannot shake their attachment to existing power structures.

2. The American Dream and ‘Nice’ Capitalism:- Picture it now: The mind-numbing, six-hour general assembly of earnest campers wrangling over the pros and cons of reforming the banking system. Searching for a consensus to draw a plan for a nice new capitalism ‘with a human face’, one regulated more effectively by the state. Underlying much (not all) of the Occupy Movement is a strange sort of American Dream narrative and the idealised notion of a pure, moral and non-parastitic capitalism. The idea that a once-fair and equitable meritocracy has been corrupted by a tiny few who’ve taken things too far. Still wedded to the basic tenets of capitalism and representative democracy, many of the Occupy protesters aren’t demanding anything that’s particularly radical. ‘NOT AGAINST CAPITALISM, JUST AGAINST GREED!’ – as if the whole machine didn’t thrive on an avaricious drive to make a profit by any means, masked by useful euphemisms like ‘ambition’ and ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. In a Huffington Post article entitled, ‘The Occupy Movement: Not Anti-Capitalist but Anti-Fundamentalist’ Richard Stacy writes, ‘There is not a problem with capitalism, per se, and very few protesters are claiming as such. The problem is the variant of capitalism we have been pursuing for most of the last 30 years.’ Oh yes. How can we forget those rosy days of Wilson and Callaghan, when the Labour Party actually meant the party of labour and actually represented the interests of the working masses (or is that the 99%)? Do people actually have such a misplaced fetish for that era of big government social democracy? Do they think back to those days as if the liberal West was the land of milk, honey and stable class relations?

This liberal-welfarist-social-democratic sycophancy is based on a total misreading of capitalism’s historical evolution.  At the risk of talking some Marxist dialectical bilge, the Keynesian post-war consensus was a political-economic model that suited one particular stage of capitalist development. New conditions (not least a long period of stagnation and the beginning of the process of globalisation) gave rise to the neo-liberal, monetarist model, which allowed unregulated capital to move across borders freely and expanded credit to stimulate a stifled demand and flat-lining real wages. All these systems are just different variations on the same putrid and debased theme, just stages in the evolution of a morally bankrupt system that has an unfortunate self-adjusting mechanism guaranteeing its survival through countless crises thus far.

3. A Shit Slogan – We Are The 99%. All our grievances and frustrations watered down into a vacuous, simplistic, twitter-friendly slogan. Just as vapid as ‘Yes We Can’ or ‘Keep Hope Alive’. Is this an attempt to quantify the class struggle? A handy little formula to explain inequality and income disparities? Unfortunately, our problems have surpassed, ‘the 1% versus everybody else’. Power is more entrenched and it cannot be delineated or reduced into a neat little mantra or pyramid diagram of societies’ ‘power structure’.

During France’s Red Terror, Marat drew up an exact list of around 36,000 names, claiming that all the problems of the French people could be solved virtually overnight if the 36,000 were guillotined. This claim at least would have made more sense in his era of autocratic leviathans and the absolute omnipotency of Church and State. At least then there was a definite, discernable line of authority heading steeply down a feudal pyramid, but I’m not so sure that this is the case now (or even if it was then). It’s not so black and white between the powerful and powerless; the monolithic institution/elite vs. the rest of the world. Power is more diffuse. It manages to worm its way into all relationships and practical endeavors, a crisscrossing web of coercive and manipulative connections that reproduce themselves through individuals – our job is to grasp this and minimise its hold over us. If I’m wrong then fuck it, lets just hang the 1% and be done with it, and enjoy the rest of our lives without these parasites.

4. What are they Occupying? Looks to me like they’re sleeping in a park or on a bit of concrete outside a church. A protest can either be a media-spectacle that ‘raises awareness’, or it can actually pose a real threat to the State if it challenges it directly. Are these occupations about establishing ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’ or ‘Spaces of Hope’, self-governing and independent of traditional power structures and the State, that could potentially lead to a situation of ‘dual power’ that negates the State’s hegemony, or begins to construct ‘the new in the shell of the old’? Or are they oppositional attempts to disrupt (or just question) the status quo without establishing a positive alternative? Both would be fine, but I’m not sure that Occupy is doing either, or if they are, their attempts seem a little watered-down. In fairness, Occupy Oakland has made the most progress towards actually turning the occupation into a real Event, and this is partly due to the wildly disproportionate repression the (initially) peaceful encampment received from the police.

The practical/organisational forms of the occupy movement (radically democratic, horizontally-structured) seem to be more radical than the content (reformist ‘demands’, social-democratic leanings). The non-hierarchical, organic structure is laudable, with general assemblies as the sole decision-making bodies, but to be effective, the occupations need to become more than just political campsites.

Apologies for not being completely overjoyed at the prospect of new generation of activists demanding (in the main) a return to some sort of pre-cuts-pre-monetarist-pre-Thatcher-pre-Reagan-pre-deregulation-capitalism, and imagining a kind of socially responsible, welfarist free market to replace the rapacious capitalism of late. Perhaps I’m jealous not being in the place where it’s all apparently ‘happening’, but my sympathy is stretched with a movement that has consistently tried to appeal to both, ‘left and right, liberal and conservative’, de-politicising class warfare and shouting, ‘Forget your politics, YOU ARE THE 99%!!!!!!!!!!11!! #OWS’

K.P.B.S.F.S