What Would It Mean to Win?
By Turbulence Collective
PM Press Copyright © 2010 PM Press
All rights reserved.
Hope moves faster than the speed of thought
Foreword by John Holloway
I shouldn't be here doing this, and yet I can't resist it, the honour of it. Turbulence is exciting. It's the restlessness of it, the itchiness of it, the refusal to rest on laurels, to be satisfied, the constant rethinking, re-posing of the problems, the going beyond itself, the moving beyond movements, the overflowing. A moving that disrupts, a turbulence. Not a cistern, but a fountain out of control.
Of course we should not be satisfied. How could we be when we still live in capitalism, when we still create and re-create capitalism each day, when we are all complicit in the production of a world that kills and humiliates and destroys? How can we live with that? And yet we do. We cannot be satisfied, and yet perhaps we are. As we scream and hurl ourselves against capital, we glance at our image in the mirror and fall in love with it. How romantic we are, how brave, how clever. We are blinded by what we see, captivated by it. "However hazy our image in the mirror has always been, have we not become too enamoured of it ...?". We come to ourselves and something has happened. The movement has stopped. Or perhaps it is just our movement that has stopped, just we who have stopped. We are left there stranded, in danger of becoming one of "those strange political groups of yesteryear, arguing about 1917 or 1936, or whatever as worlds pass by". 1917 or 1936 or 1968 or 1994 or 2001 or 2008, perhaps. The danger is there all the time: we invent a word, the "Left", to pretend that we haven't been stranded, to hide our distancing from the flow of struggle, as a nostalgic memory of what we did in our youth, as a self-deception.
Turbulence does not let us do that: the word "Left" is hardly mentioned, there is no time for sitting back and nostalging. We must try and see what is wrong, how we can start moving again. If the movement of movements has run into difficulties, then we must try to get it moving again, nudge it in a new direction. "To recognise the limits of a particular moment or phase of struggle does not have to imply an inability to move beyond it." Just the contrary: we must do everything we can to find a way forward.
This cannot be done by laying down a new line. Even if we wanted to, there is no one who could do it. The articles in this collection are contributions to a discussion. They share a common concern, but not a common solution. They are all prompted by the question of "What would it mean to win?", but one feels that there is really another question that motivates them all: how do we get going again? Or perhaps, what is to be done now? They are all very honest reflections (and though I do not mention all by name, I found them each and all very stimulating). Gone, thank goodness, are the revolutionary recipes of the past, the answers.
There is no common line, but there are themes that recur in several of the articles. Three of them strike me as being particularly important.
The first is demands. Do we think of nudging the movement forward in terms of the reformulation of demands? Ben Trott, basing himself on current discussions in Germany, suggests that the formulation of directional demands may be a way forward. Yet, however much the directional demands may differ from transitional or other demands, there is, as the Free Association point out, always a problem with demands: they are always addressed to somebody, they always carry with them the tonality of asking somebody for something. The notion of a demand already suggests the acceptance that power is external to us. Power is indeed outside us, but our struggle is to dissolve the externality of power, to re-appropriate the world as ours. Or better: our struggle is to stop externalising our power, to stop alienating the world from ourselves. The danger with demands, however directional, is that we are not just recognising an external power but actually creating that power, converting our power-to into an external power-over. Gustavo Esteva suggests that in effect we should forget about demanding anything and just get on with creating the world we want. Forget about changing the world and get on with constructing a new one (or new ones). Live the world we want to create: that stands as the alternative to a politics of demands. We assume our own power to create, and refuse to project it on to anyone else and recognise it as their power over us.
Of course it is not so simple. The Free Association, who prefer to think of problematics rather than demands (for the reasons already mentioned), nevertheless point out that the formulation of demands can give coherence to a movement, give it an identity. With this, we are back with the problem of the image in the mirror. To have an identity is to look in the mirror and see our image. Harmless enough perhaps, or perhaps necessary though harmful. This is the issue of institutionalisation. We were clear that the Communist Party, that great Revolutionary Institution, was a major obstacle to the flow of anti-capitalist struggle. And then we saw that all revolutionary parties are obstacles to the moving of struggle, and we thought that with that we had got rid of the problem of institutionalisation. But now we see that our image in the mirror is a new form of institutionalisation that blinds us just as surely (though perhaps less crudely) to the moving of the movement. The Turbulence group concludes in Move into the Light? that "Perhaps the impasse of the last few years has arisen precisely because people have failed to see answers in the places they searched, and did not start looking elsewhere. However hazy our image in the mirror has always been, have we not become too enamoured of it to actually have a look around?" Institutions, however anti-institutional, make us insensitive, stop us listening to the responses to the questions we walk asking, make us blind to the moving of struggle. Institutions, however anti-institutional, seek to freeze the flow of time. But do we not need them? Sandro Mezzadro and Gigi Ruggero suggest that we should seek a new institutionality, but I feel that this is to move in the wrong direction: taking the world into our own hands, assuming our own power-to, means that we try to swim (or skate or fly) without holding on to the edge for security. Perhaps we cannot live with such intensity, perhaps we need to rest from our moments of excess, but then at best we should think of institutions as a resting stage, a place to sit down and consider how to move on – which is precisely what Turbulence is about.
Only we should not think that if we stop for a moment, the world will necessarily stop with us. The struggle flows on. Beyond the movements that produce images in the mirror, there is an "endless moving of social relations" that seems to leave no visible trace. Hope moves faster than either perception or thought. The Turbulence group cite the struggles in the banlieues of France as a moving of struggle beyond the movement in struggle, and Euclides Andrés Mance points to a much less dramatic moving when he says: "there is a global revolution underway. It is not led by any political party or vanguard. It has no military bases and its strategy is anti-belligerent. It mobilises millions of people all over the world. We know little about it." With this he refers to the "solidarity economics", a term that I don't like because of its ambiguities and its reproduction of the idea of the economic as a distinct sphere of life-activity, but which nevertheless points to the millions and millions of people who are simply trying, by choice or necessity, to break out of the logic of capitalist labour, and who probably do not go to the anti-G8 summits and may not even have heard of them. Heiligendamm and the other anti-summits are at most the tip of an iceberg, the most visible manifestations of a much deeper, darker, broader moving against-and-beyond capital. To resolve the stutter in the flow of the movement of movements, perhaps we need to focus on the relation between the movement and this deeper moving. This book is an important opening in this direction.
And it's fun.
Are we "winning"?
'WE ARE WINNING' This slogan, spray-painted on a wall, was one of the most iconic images of the protests against the Third Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle in 1999. It captured the sentiment of the moment on that crazy rainy winter morning perfectly. Seemingly out of nowhere, a decade after the supposed 'end of history', a coalition of anarchists and communists, environmentalists and trade unionists, nuns and queers, and thousands of others had taken to the streets, and actually shut down the WTO conference in Microsoft's and Starbucks' home town. How did that happen?
Many describe Seattle as our movement's 'coming-out party'. For we didn't emerge out of nowhere; a multitude of struggles had been slowly growing in the shadows ... Against World Bank mega-projects, like the Narmada dam in India. Against the privatisation of public utilities, such as water struggles in South Africa. Against the enclosure of land with movements in Brazil and the Zapatistas in Mexico. Against employment reforms, like the ship-building and automobile strikes in South Korea. And against the meeting of the G7 heads of state, like the global day of action on June 18, 1999, the last time they met in Germany. The movement didn't begin in Seattle, but its importance lay in its resonance both in the city's streets and well beyond. It was a moment of intensity – none of us were alone anymore – even if we'd never been to Seattle or seen a WTO representative.
In the years which followed, lines of resistance and creation – the production of other worlds – could be traced around the world. These were lines which connected the counter-summit mobilisations in Washington DC, Chiang Mai, Prague, Quebec and Genoa. They linked European social centres with farmers' struggles in India; the Argentinian piqueteros with free software movements; struggles for free access to education and knowledge with those against biotechnology. Spaces – both real and virtual – were created to build, strengthen and develop networks of resistance and creation: Peoples' Global Action, the Indymedia news network, the World Social Forum and hundreds of local versions. We were caught up in a new cycle of struggles; there was a real 'affect of winning'. This wasn't just a feeling, experienced by us as individuals or in groups. It was an increase in our power of acting, which allowed us as a movement to engage in new modes of behaviour.
Some say that the last time they saw the 'We Are Winning' slogan, it was sprayed on the side of a burning police van in Genoa, as the G8 met in the summer of 2001. Has it seemed appropriate since? Today winning seems a long way off.
Some see Genoa as a turning point. It marked the end of a cycle of struggles and the beginning of a new one – an attempt to instigate a global, open-ended police-war. This war was declared with a series of violent attacks upon both the flesh and bones of those considered somehow 'militant', but also much more indiscriminately, against the whole of the social body seen as constituting this other possible world. This war was of course not new, in history or in the present; but it would become generalised and intensified following the events of September 11, a few months later. More than a matter of localised moments of repression, war has again clearly become one of the ways in which the world is run: not 'the continuation of politics through other means', but a means by which life is managed. The affects of winning – bound up with the joyful experience of desire creating another world – are replaced by those of fear, and the apparent omnipresence of a power turned against us. And what next?
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN?
Movements become apparent as 'movements' at times of acceleration and expansion. In these heady moments they have fuzzy boundaries, no membership lists – everybody is too engaged in what's coming next, in creating the new, looking to the horizon. But movements get blocked, they slow down, they cease to move, or continue to move without considering their actual effects. When this happens, they can stifle new developments, suppress the emergence of new forms of politics; or fail to see other possible directions. Many movements just stop functioning as movements. They become those strange political groups of yesteryear, arguing about 1917 or 1936, or whatever as worlds pass by.
Sometimes all it takes to get moving again is a nudge in a new direction. Take the example of the Movimento Sem Terra, Brazil's landless peasants movement: in the 1980s they were successfully getting land, more and more, but they ceased to actually move. They merely repeated a cycle. Many got land, but almost all lost it too: the landless-to-farmer transition was too much too fast. They got eaten and spat out by land speculators and banks. Then the movement changed direction. They put their energy into keeping people on the land, not getting more, and later used those secure bases to intensify their struggle for more land. Result: one million families have settled themselves on what was once big ranchers' land.
We also want more movement, new directions. Who doesn't? So we think now is a good time to ask the question: What would – or could – it mean to 'win'?
The question is important because it opens up so many others. It may nudge us in new directions. Take just three:
How do we understand contemporary capitalism, and what would it mean to break with it?
How do we deal with living on a finite planet, and with its manifestations such as climate change?
How different is the global movement of movements from all that has passed before; and how can we learn from history?
Strangely these all lead to somewhat similar questions: politically, why do we do what we do, and why do we keep doing it? And of course: what (else) could be done?
We're not offering a packaged and polished set of answers to these or any other questions. The 14 articles in Turbulence come from different contexts, different parts of the world; they have different tones, different paces and they certainly don't all agree with each other; and some are harder than others to read outside their context. But we think this unevenness, what some might call roughness, is useful. It's sometimes hard to engage with a collection of texts which is too polished. You've no sooner exclaimed, 'that's wrong, I don't agree with that at all!' or 'but what about X?', than the author's anticipated your objection in a footnote, or else the editors have directed you to another article which plugs the gap. On the other hand, rough edges provide handholds, something to grab onto. They provide a way into arguments. Maybe you'll pull at a loose end and everything will unravel. But perhaps you'll be able to weave something else with those threads. What we want to do is put out articles that help us to think new thoughts. To think and act differently.
But there is a common thread running through the articles: it's that we think the questions they tackle are essential if we are to have any chance of turning the world upside down. Are we alone in this? We don't think so. Recently we've come across different initiatives where we've glimpsed the outlines of new re-groupings. We're not proclaiming 'the time is now'. Nor are we demanding 'one more push, comrades'. It's more subtle than that. More tentative. Will we be swept up again? Maybe. Will a high tide come from an unexpected direction? Probably. And what's Turbulence got to do with it? Who knows? But you can't say you haven't been warned that people are experimenting. And some of those experiments will get out of control.
Politics in an age of fantasy
REALITY, FANTASY AND POLITICS
In the autumn of 2004, shortly before the U.S. presidential election and in the middle of a typically bloody month in Iraq, The New York Times Magazine ran a feature article on the casualty of truth in the Bush administration. Like most Times articles, it was well written, well researched, and thoroughly predictable. That George W. Bush is ill-informed, doesn't listen to dissenting opinion, and acts upon whatever nonsense he happens to believe is hardly news. (Even the fact that he once insisted that Sweden did not have an army and none of his cabinet dared contradict him was not all that surprising.) There was, however, one valuable insight. In a soon-to-be-infamous passage, the writer, Ron Suskind, recounted a conversation between himself and an unnamed senior adviser to the president:
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality." I nodded and murmured something about Enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create reality. And while you are studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we'll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do." (Continues...)
Excerpted from What Would It Mean to Win? by Turbulence Collective. Copyright © 2010 PM Press. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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