April 02, 2009

Beyond the spectacle of politics


I certainly hope that Owen is right and that the elements at yesterday's anti-G20 protests can combine into a combustible new left. But it's significant, that for me the only potentially political strategy - the factory occupation in Enfield - is happening far away from the spectacle of politics that went on in the City. Surely Lenin's scepticism is justfied:

    I'm still not clear on what the strategy is behind these mini-spectacles. It's great to see thousands of people turn out to protest against capitalism, despite all the media hysteria and off-putting threats from the police. We need far bigger protests in the future, ideally coinciding with a general strike or something. But it seems as if the idea at the moment is to have a carnivalesque parade, wind up in one spot and get penned in only to have the police mess with you if you try to have a drink or some weed. I don't want to be a negative nelly, but that's not reclaiming the streets, it's getting owned by the cops.

At the moment, it is the exorbitant nature of the demands and the fact that they are still directed at a Bad Father who cannot grant them that is a large part of the problem. There has to be a determinate goal, a set of demands that could in principle be met. But there also has to be a political subjectivity which has what Peter Hallward calls practical sufficiency in itself, which did not require some Master to act on its demands for it. Stop The War has concrete demands, but if there is any movement which has demonstrated the tragic impotence of mass protest of this type this decade, it is the anti-Iraq war struggle. Millions of people march in London to no effect whatsoever. The war is a total failure, yet still the anti-war effort is not capable of stopping it. Partly it is its inability to act on its own demands, to seize ground without the permisison of the Masters, that has meant that the Stop The War movement has not managed to convert discontent into an effective political subjectivity. The climate change protest, meanwhile, is largely meaningless, since it is a protest that everyone can agree with, and therefore has no potential to generate political antagonism - who is in favour of climate change? The factory occupation, by contrast, at least has the potential to move beyond the model of protest towards some sort of direct action by workers which can create an effective antagonism over issues of ownership, control and property.
Time to withdraw from the feelgood simulation of politics. Time to give up the gratification of displaying wounds inflicted by the police as signs of grace, evidence that we are on the side of the Good. Time to relinquish the easy jouissance of impotent acting-out. Time to face the fact that organising marches isn't the same as political organisation. Neoliberalism didn't protest to achieve its hegemony; it organised and co-ordinated. This is a moment of massive oppurtunity. Neoliberalism is finished, but it survives in an undead form because its assumptions and defaults still condition the political-economic landscape. Capitalist realism is far from dead, however - and it's surely clearly that it certainly won't be destroyed by an 'anti-capitalist' spectacular hysteria (indeed this form of anti-capitalism could be seen as an integral part of the capitalist realist system). It's time to think, not in order to finesse some grand philosophical system, but with the goal of identifying what new forms of organisation can succeed in these conditions. Time to give up on the romance of a politics of failure and plan to win.

Posted by mark at April 2, 2009 11:12 AM | TrackBack