The Free Association

67 posts / 0 new
Last post
RedHughs
Offline
Joined: 25-11-06
Aug 2 2011 01:56

I feel like the discussion could be wider than a "pro-operaism/anti-operaism" division.

In the way he/she is framing it at least, Skraeling is effectively arguing for one "privileging" versus another - "precarious workers, immaterial workers and the like" verus "workers, particularly those employed in blue collar workplaces (including transport". I wouldn't really agree with either approach.

My fairly simple reaction is that we really should not privilege any section of the working class but rather look at the dynamics particular to each section and each situation. All the doctrines of "the most important sector" seem rather dubious to me given the presently fast-transforming world situation.

Despite transportation workers' convenient ability to shut-down a country, I think any serious revolutionary process is going involve a complex interchange between the various sections of the working where discount one section or another is going to be a mistake. One thing that merits emphasis is that the Argentine piqueteros demonstrated that when the unemployed are willing to block highways with their bodies out of utter desperation, they too have the ability to bring the economy to a halt.

What I would say is the real problem of operaism lurks one a different level. It isn't that the various "post-operaists" talk about marginalized sections of the working class. The problem I have with them is that they are often willing to accept the representatives of these sections for the workers themselves - they're willing to take the Comandante's Marcos' baloney about democracy and civil society for indigenous peoples struggles (certainly, these struggles also happened in same Zapatista umbrella as was used by Marcos but they sure weren't the same thing). I mean, its obvious the "World Social Forum" was primarily the forum of the world's professional representatives of marginalized struggles and that's what wandered around the summit-hopping politics (well, aside from the pure insurrectionary black-bloc). And certainly, accepting the "civil society" framework at all is lining up to have democratic capitalism beat you from both front and back (and it's worth keeping in mind that the intellectual-workers/pseudo-middle-class ("middle class poor" of the Mid-East) certainly "naturally" gravitates towards this masochistic ideology. I don't this mean we accept this or, on the hand that this section is inherently counter-revolutionary).

We should not be looking at any section of the working class with rose colored glasses. The willingness of industrial workers to accept the control of unions has to be balance against the multiple problems of the more marginal sections. And we don't have struggles of our choosing in any case but those that appear. Ultimately here, (speaking very roughly) the task of communists should be to call on the working class as a whole to centralize its struggles and throw-off all varieties of professional representatives, whether "civil society activists" or union officials.

Reg Presley
Offline
Joined: 2-08-11
Aug 2 2011 17:31

You wait for ages then two come along at once. I’m also a member of the, ahem, ahem, Free Association, provoked by my unwise comrade Ray into making a cameo appearance on this thread. Although I fear we may have left it too late as the thread’s already become pretty incoherent, which makes it hard to work out how to join in.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons that, like Ray, I don’t find Internet forums that attractive. That plus the way the lack of non-verbal (non-textual?) cues seems to lead inexorably to misunderstanding, talking past one another and loss of temper. Like email lists they are fairly old technologies that we now know quite well, useful for something but not I’ve found that great for discussion (prove me wrong people, prove me wrong).

One of the problems it tends to bring out, and something identifiable at points on this thread is a sort of taxonomical approach to politics. In which people, groups, ideas, texts, etc are positioned in relation to a pre-existing grid of interpretation.

At the moment we (the Free association) are collectively answering an interview put to us by editors of a more academic journal. The interview contains many interesting and challenging questions but one of them asks us to position ourselves within certain academic debates. We’ve found it a really unproductive question and every answer we come up with seems unsatisfying. I not sure what’s behind this taxonomical impulse, is there is anything worthwhile to it?

I’m not sure. My fear is that it becomes a polemical device in which positioning is a precursor to dismissal. A position on a grid is glossed into an equivalence, which in turn allows us to reach into our bag of ready-made critiques without the bother of having to engage with what is being said (move along, nothing to see here). Well, OK, I suppose we all fall back on this move every now and then. It’s a big world out there and if we took it all on at once we’d end up politically catatonic, unable to act.

The approach we’ve tried to adopt though is slightly different. Starting from the question: what’s your problem? (What’s your fackin problem sunny?).

No, I mean, what context and problem are you engaged with`? If the problem we are addressing doesn’t resonate with you then chances are communication is going to misfire and you’re not going to find what we write interesting. That’s fair enough, not the end of the world. Although it is perfectly possible to grab ideas magpie like, extract them from the problem within which they were developed and insert them into the problems of our own choosing. This move short-circuits the taxonomical impulse and our attachment to the move is probably why we find questions of taxonomy so unsatisfying.

As to less meta-issues I’ll try and address Spikeymike’s contribution, which I really appreciate because it engages with our writings and tries to find something of interest in them, although I think he misreads our ‘problem’ a little. Spikey admits that he is reading our book and John Holloway together and through one another. This carries the real danger of conflation between the two and there are elements of that in his reading. His central critique that we lack the resources with which to make strategic distinctions based on social significance is something I’ve actually thought about John Holloway sometimes, particularly during a couple of talks I’ve seen when he’s been less nuanced than in his writing.

At the Manchester talk when Spikey Mike made the point about a necessary distinction between events made up of political activists and those made up of ordinary people, he used the Spanish Indignados movement as an example of the latter. My response was that it was an illuminating example because it could be argued that the Indignados started off as an example of the former. It carries a heavy inheritance from alter-globalisation veterans, who were central to its initiation. This inheritance explains the adoption of consensus process, etc. The question of the form of inheritance that veterans of past generations of struggle can bring to new eruptions of struggle is of the key problem we are engaging with at the moment.

I think it’s an urgent question. Not least because the inheritance you can see in the Indignado’s movement is not wholly positive. The form of repetition of those earlier experiences really needs to be thought through. That cycle of struggles produced critiques of consensus and the fetishisation of the open network, that now seems to have been lost. Consensus process is good for some situations but not for others. It isn’t good for collective strategic thinking for instance, which also needs dissensus. And it is collective analysis and strategising that the Indignados need if they are to exceed the conditions of their emergence. Consensus process is biased towards the status quo of a movement’s practice and biased away from the transformation of movement practice as wider class composition changes.

One of Spikeymike’s contributions at the talk, that I found very useful, was his insistence that the square assemblies also drew on models that were pre-existent in Spain and Greece. There are also geographical factors such as good weather that made the verbatim copying of square occupations unlikely to work in the UK. It made me wonder if there is anything in UK culture or history that could be drawn on in a UK spring.

Anyway I’d love to hear what people make of the problem of inheritance. We’ve been trying to use a concept of a generation to think this through and this article is probably the place to start: Re:generation

PS if people want to discuss something called autonomism then I’d really recommend this amazing radio interview as a starting point.

I like it partly because of the brilliant coherence with which Frederico Campagnia tells the story but also because of a move at the end that surprised me but made a lot of sense. He talks about autonomism’s messianic or even mystical element – we want everything and we want it now; we want the sky to fall on earth. We are after all on this earth for a mere three score years and ten, we better make life liveable. Plenty of ammunition here for polemical dismissal but also something I found really interesting and exciting. I also love it because he mentions “Q” and the Anabaptist in this context. A little known fact: a condition for joining the Free Association is to have the words “Omnia Sunt Communia” tattooed on your body.

RedHughs
Offline
Joined: 25-11-06
Aug 4 2011 01:46

Hmm,

There was a discussion I saw a while where some older folks went into some detail about the whole "inheritance" thing.

After some discussion with another comrade from much older days, I just had to think it's not a problem at all. At least, I'm doubtful that activists of any generation should be very worried about "passing lessons" on to the next generation. It seems more like we should use the opportunity of people having different ideas to realize how little we know. The younger generation is not us, they haven't failed...

Another way to put it is that nothing really significant has happened for the last fifty years so you'd have to be really old before you could talk about concrete experiences that were different. Or at least, any of our experiences of revolt are bookended by long, long, long periods of boredom and defeat.

Otherwise, the sum of what any of us can say is "hey, back in the day, we banged our heads against the brick wall from this side, you youngsters are all wrong banging your heads against the wall from the other side..."

Skraeling
Offline
Joined: 7-04-06
Aug 4 2011 04:06
RedHughs wrote:
I feel like the discussion could be wider than a "pro-operaism/anti-operaism" division.

In the way he/she is framing it at least, Skraeling is effectively arguing for one "privileging" versus another - "precarious workers, immaterial workers and the like" verus "workers, particularly those employed in blue collar workplaces (including transport". I wouldn't really agree with either approach.

My fairly simple reaction is that we really should not privilege any section of the working class but rather look at the dynamics particular to each section and each situation. All the doctrines of "the most important sector" seem rather dubious to me given the presently fast-transforming world situation.

Despite transportation workers' convenient ability to shut-down a country, I think any serious revolutionary process is going involve a complex interchange between the various sections of the working where discount one section or another is going to be a mistake. One thing that merits emphasis is that the Argentine piqueteros demonstrated that when the unemployed are willing to block highways with their bodies out of utter desperation, they too have the ability to bring the economy to a halt.

Damn, I lost my reply to this. In brief, it went something like yes I agree with you that we should not idolise one sector over others, and recognise without rose tinted specs the limitations and potentialities of each. As well, its crucial to recognise how struggle should not be isolated to one sector, and instead be generalised.

Yes we need to look at the concrete dynamics of each situation. But that is precisely my point. I wasn't talking of a simplistic dichotomy between blue collar and immaterial across the globe, and trying to locate the universal 'most important sector'.

I was talking of a specific context in some countries: that of the strategic potential of workers in key export industries in export based economies where an economy is very reliant on one or two or three export commodities. Obviously this applies to many 'third world countries' and one or two 'first world' ones like where I live, but in more complex economies like the US and Western Europe this would not apply, and be much more murky and complex.

Sorry if this comes across as patronising or Marxism101ish or workerist, it is not meant that way, but i still think that in an such an export based economy these workers have potentially more power than lumpens. Simply becos say oil workers in Gabon are in a daily situation where they have the potential to shut down their countries main source of income just by walking off the job. In contrast, lumpens in Gabon are not in that daily situation. To do effective pickets a la the piqueteros, they then would need to be able to overcome their isolation, limk up, form massive and popular and mobile lumpen groups, and then have the money and transport to be able to set up blockades at key points of the transport infrastructure. Of course, all this would assume they would have a transport infrastructure to disrupt in the first place. (Oops just thought a counter to this is how oil pipelines can easily be sabotaged, so maybe the piquetero tactic is not needed, and that i need to think of another industry like say cocoa or coffee).

Sure, the oil workers would have their own limitations to overcome - i can think of problems like capital's restructuring, unions and narrow occupationalism (which is a very real problem, as i think workers in key export industries after they have struggled a bit often tend to become relatively wealthy compared to other workers, and look down upon them) - and that lumpens have power and potential and the piquetero tactic is very worthwhile and shows up the vulnerabilities of just in time production and should not be discounted. But that doesn't mean that overall i reckon workers in key export industries in export based countries greater potential than lumpens.

In other countries, this would not apply so well. If say oil workers in the US walked off the job, then it would not really impair too badly the functioning of the US economy. So in more complex and diverse economies the argument that many different workers have just as much potential or at least similar potential as others fits much better. There you've gotta look at the complex interplay between material and 'immaterial' without discounting one or the other. Overall i'm really keen on concrete investigation into this sort of stuff, and not abstract claims without backing them up with evidence - i think post-operaismo is good at the latter.

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Aug 4 2011 04:19
Reg Presley wrote:
At the Manchester talk when Spikey Mike made the point about a necessary distinction between events made up of political activists and those made up of ordinary people, he used the Spanish Indignados movement as an example of the latter. My response was that it was an illuminating example because it could be argued that the Indignados started off as an example of the former. It carries a heavy inheritance from alter-globalisation veterans, who were central to its initiation. This inheritance explains the adoption of consensus process, etc. The question of the form of inheritance that veterans of past generations of struggle can bring to new eruptions of struggle is of the key problem we are engaging with at the moment.

I think it’s an urgent question. Not least because the inheritance you can see in the Indignado’s movement is not wholly positive. The form of repetition of those earlier experiences really needs to be thought through. That cycle of struggles produced critiques of consensus and the fetishisation of the open network, that now seems to have been lost. Consensus process is good for some situations but not for others. It isn’t good for collective strategic thinking for instance, which also needs dissensus. And it is collective analysis and strategising that the Indignados need if they are to exceed the conditions of their emergence. Consensus process is biased towards the status quo of a movement’s practice and biased away from the transformation of movement practice as wider class composition changes.

I think the example of the inheritance of counter-globalisation organisational forms on the indignados movement is a good one. You have identified consensus as one element, but for me the other problem that came out strongly in the critical accounts, was the problem of "plenary-ism" - that is, the mania to try and get 4000, 6000, 10000 people to articulate a political commons through the use of a single microphone.

They say that generals always prepare for the war before last. Historically the left/antagonist movement has tended to slavishly imitate (inherit) the organisational forms of its predecessors without necessarily fully understanding the circumstances that originally allowed these forms to open new potentials/potencies (potenza) when they were new, or appreciate the inherent limitations or contradictions that became evident through the experience of their usage. Look at the history of the Soviet - a novel form in the 1905 Russian Revolution, already by the 1917 revolution they had become almost exclusively colonised by semi-professional "representatives" of the various political parties, and since are now the fetish of choice as "the one true form" for one strand of micro-sect.

I'm not proposing that organisational forms go through some sort of reified life-cycle as somehow original/"authentic" and then doomed to be repeated first as tragedy then as farce. But on a more prosaic note, we must recognise that all people adapt (even the ones most vehemently against change and adaptation - indeed, especially them). So, whether you call them the authoritarian left, middle class counter-revolutionaries or elements of class decomposition, the partisans of the domination/representation of the majority by a minority, progressively discover the ways to game any new organisational form until such time as they become its main advocates - always in the name of expressing "the will of the majority" of course... The counter-revolution always fights in the name of the defence of the revolution.

The ways in which the contras can use consensus to block progress in any direction they are opposed to, have already been well understood. Plus they tend to make themselves fairly visible in the process of obstruction and are thus more readily indentifiable as the source of blockage. The problem of scale and the plenary session is more challenging as it can appear less as a clear imposition by an identifiable blocking minority, and more as a problem imposed by natural limits of scale - that is, it's origins are more mystified.

The spokescouncil form that the counter-global movement inherited from the anti-nuclear direct action movement has become the legitimation point for this "authority of the plenary" tendency. That's not to say that the spokescouncil form & consensus process does not have its uses. But it is a form best adapted to negotiating unity of action in a tactical situation (direct action against an identifiable enemy) whose operational goals (block the summit, stop the castor) are pre-agreed. The name of the game is tactical coordination in the absence of a top-down military command structure.

However, for the more ambitious agenda of the assembleas, the unfolding of a new politics and a new direction (nearly said line of flight, erk) from within - i.e. expressing autonomy rather than simple antagonism - the retention of the sovereignty of a single centre (whatever its democratic pretensions), is a blockage. The accounts from the Barca acampada where the trots kept blocking the delegation of initiative to the subgroups is a case in point.

Here is where we need to think of that most neglected aspects of anarchism - federalism. Above a certain mass, centralism, no matter how democratic or "open mike", becomes a brake and a hindrance on the process of developing the collective potency of the multitude. A change in quantity becomes a change in quality and participation becomes representation and passivity. Does anarchism have a developed theory and praxis of federalism? At present no. But, and this is where I disagree with the FA's progressive alienation from self-identifying as anarchists, in relation to power, the failings of anarchism are the failings of the left in toto, as no other tendency even problematises power.

So, Federalism versus Plenaryism - another chapter for the 21st century handbook of libertarian communist organisational praxis. Must get around to writing that one of these days... (preferably not when I'm up at 5am doing frigging system maintenance, gah!)

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Aug 5 2011 11:00

I see two FAistas have a CiF piece in the Grauniad:

CiF: The zombie of neoliberalism can be beaten – through mass direct action

Reg Presley
Offline
Joined: 2-08-11
Aug 5 2011 13:43

I'm sure you won't mind if I take refuge here from the insanity of a CiF comment thread.

Just want to say that I agreed with ocelot's comment about plenary-ism being a problem that needs addressing. Our impulse is often to try and defend the purity of assemblies from 'manipulators' yet we also want to inject our analysis into the debate - I even found this a very difficult circle to square during the student occupations. I haven't got an answer I'm afraid but identifying and clarifying the problem is often more useful than providing a solution of the top of your head.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Aug 5 2011 21:17
Angelus Novus wrote:
It might just be the case that FA doesn't really consider themselves anarchist or libertarian or whatever?

It's been way too long but when I was last in regular contact with them (the bastards!) at least one of them would call himself an anarchist so it's definitely not that. Maybe it's that they're too old and senile to use computers (the impostors on this thread and their recent writings on 'youth' notwithstanding.) I have to say I don't get why everyone in England isn't always talking face to face, the country's crazy small, so it seems like them not being on libcom should be easy to workaround.

RedEd's picture
RedEd
Offline
Joined: 27-11-10
Aug 5 2011 23:20
Reg Presley wrote:
I'm sure you won't mind if I take refuge here from the insanity of a CiF comment thread.

Just want to say that I agreed with ocelot's comment about plenary-ism being a problem that needs addressing. Our impulse is often to try and defend the purity of assemblies from 'manipulators' yet we also want to inject our analysis into the debate - I even found this a very difficult circle to square during the student occupations. I haven't got an answer I'm afraid but identifying and clarifying the problem is often more useful than providing a solution of the top of your head.

In my opinion, to put it over-simplistically, we want to win a leadership of ideas without winning a leadership of decisions. Ocelot mentioned federalism, and I think that the principles of federalism are basically the way in which you can carry on wanting to tell people what they should be doing (i.e having a commitment to a political vision rather than simply a process) whilst still having democratic structures to decide what actually gets done. Consensus, democratic centralism and other organisational forms seem really shit to me compared to federalism when it comes to keeping both the form and content of communism alive in most types of organisation (and appropriate form and appropriate content cannot exist long in the absence of the other except maybe in confessional sects).

Nate wrote:
I have to say I don't get why everyone in England isn't always talking face to face, the country's crazy small, so it seems like them not being on libcom should be easy to workaround.

Cos train tickets are fucking expensive is why.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Aug 6 2011 03:21

We all make sacrifices. Back to the salt mine, you.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Aug 6 2011 03:22

.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Aug 6 2011 14:14

Seeing that Guardian article did make me wonder how it is that a couple of erstwhile pro-revolutionaries can get material into a liberal capitalist newspaper.

The answer seems to be:

1. Write in an intelectual style familiar to it's readers.
2. Say a lot about media issues (the media just loves talking about itself)
3. Attack neo-liberalism as an ideology but avoid any explicit reference to the material reality of capitalism and class struggle.
4. Concentrate on 'forms' of protest and avoid any examination of anti-capitalist content.

The article does make some valid points but nothing out of the ordinary.

I've no reason to amend the views I expressed, both positive and negative, in my earlier post but it did reinforce my concern about concentration on issues of form over content.

RedHughs
Offline
Joined: 25-11-06
Aug 6 2011 20:37
Skraeling wrote:
I was talking of a specific context in some countries: that of the strategic potential of workers in key export industries in export based economies where an economy is very reliant on one or two or three export commodities. Obviously this applies to many 'third world countries' and one or two 'first world' ones like where I live, but in more complex economies like the US and Western Europe this would not apply, and be much more murky and complex.

Sorry if this comes across as patronising or Marxism101ish or workerist, it is not meant that way, but i still think that in an such an export based economy these workers have potentially more power than lumpens.
......

Sure, X group workers has more power than Y group of workers in a given context. But what does that mean? Really mean, in the full historical context?

If we are talking strategy, I do think communists have important strategic tasks. It is very import put forward the points that the working class needs to unite, it need to create councils or whatever to be able to act as a whole, it needs to remove all factors which hinder that unification (such as regionalism, sectionalism racism etc), it needs to destroy the state at the appropriate moment, it needs to centralize the distribution of resources rather than relying on any marketplace ideology (and maybe a few others on that order).

Having backed-up way back to this point of view (broadly of the communist-left post WWI and most of its descendents), I'd challenge you to describe where in this a specific privileging of a sector of the working class would be useful? Certainly workers in export industries, workers in infrastructure industries, workers in communications and a few other groups certainly have a power to shut down a given nation or international production system. That is one strategic factor, yes.

But I would assert there are a number of reason that this strategic factor should not be a "central part" of our politics. First, the position of modern communists does not give use wide a choice of which sectors we encourage to revolt (As RedEd says, the aim is a leadership of ideas, not a leadership of decisions (though communists could certainly be actively involved in decisions also)). Second, a given sector's position in the production system is one factor in a multifaceted struggle. Aside from stopping capitalist production, the working class needs to create its own institutions, needs to distribute resources, etc. Different sectors may wind-up having different roles here. Third, bourgeois is to one degree or another aware of the most visible weak points we can imagine and may thus take counter-measures (having army units to replace certain workers, having effective unions to shut out struggle etc) - a static view of one's enemy's weak points is hardly a sophisticated theory.

Moreover, a the crucial point the our insight will be useful, the struggle won't be clear, simple and without distractions. Communists will need to debate the regionalist, sectionalist, nationalist, syndicalist and so-forth ideologies that surface. It seems like fighting sectionalism gets hard when you are also putting forth ideas that could be easily confused with sectionalism - "this group of worker has a special strategic position" versus "this group of workers is more important and should `lead`".

Sure, you might argue that this "strategic-ness" goes into our analysis rather our basic public position. But if you divide activity that way, it seems like finding "structurally strategic sectors" is too crude for a careful analysis and not something that needs to be central to political positions. Certainly, a narrative giving an overview of the proletariat's "strategic situation" can be a fine thing. But it seems important in any such statement to separate our basic positions from the many factors which we essentially making educated guesses about (not coming off as mystical-magical-Marxists).

Recently here, there have been a number of threads where the multiple, subtle distinction in Marx's Capital have been in considerable detail. I have found those instructive, for example: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/how-does-advertising-affect-value-18072011

The thing though, is it seems to me that a look at Marx overall politics shows something like an alternation between a flexible view that looked towards what the working actually did (his analysis of the Paris Commune, say) and semi-syndicalist, linear view of the path towards proletarian revolution being essentially comparable to the previous path of the bourgeois - politics akin to the American Social Labor Party.

And it seems like the whole process of finding the "real proletarians", which something like the "productive/unproductive" distinction looks at or your strategic/non-strategic distinction does similarly, is useful for such a semi-syndicalist path and isn't useful for a modern left communist. I mean, once the semi-syndicalist road and the Soviet-and/or-councilist-and/or-communization road could kind of walk together. Now, given the experience of the twentieth century they are miles, light-years apart.

Essentially, these "advanced" and "subtle points" seem to hinge on the linear view of a working class that slowly builds itself up within capitalism in the fashion that bourgeois built itself within feudalism - what the Second International was supposed to do - taking part in bourgeois politics without being corrupted by it (and thus something I think history and/or basic logic demonstrated was impossible from the start).

Given this, I think it is important to critically reanalyze our "Marxism 101" approaches so that we can have as effective as possible a modern communist approach.

rat's picture
rat
Offline
Joined: 16-10-03
Aug 12 2011 22:27

Can the August days of 2011 be considered in terms of moments of excess?

John Muir's picture
John Muir
Offline
Joined: 18-08-11
Aug 18 2011 09:42

Another Free Association member here, reporting for libcom duty. First, I am honoured that folk on this list think The Free Association is interesting enough to warrant its own thread. Seriously.

There's a lot here worth responding to. The debate about operaismo/post-operaismo/autonomist marxism is interesting. Unfortunately this area has been dominated and defined by Negri and his circle (Hardt, Virno, etc) with their emphasis on precarious workers, immaterial/cognitive labour, etc. But there's another thread of autonomist thought -- which also stretches back to the 1970s -- developed by Marxist-feminists such as Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Silivia Federici, and the Midnight Notes Collective. The Midnight Notes and Friends pamphlet Promissory Notes contains the most comprehensive bottom-up analysis of the present crisis that I've come across.

But, on The Free Association...

First this post by SpikyMike

Spikymike wrote:
Seeing that Guardian article did make me wonder how it is that a couple of erstwhile pro-revolutionaries can get material into a liberal capitalist newspaper.

The answer seems to be:

1. Write in an intelectual style familiar to it's readers.
2. Say a lot about media issues (the media just loves talking about itself)
3. Attack neo-liberalism as an ideology but avoid any explicit reference to the material reality of capitalism and class struggle.
4. Concentrate on 'forms' of protest and avoid any examination of anti-capitalist content.

The article does make some valid points but nothing out of the ordinary.

I've no reason to amend the views I expressed, both positive and negative, in my earlier post but it did reinforce my concern about concentration on issues of form over content.

I'm curious about this. Especially in context of thread where there's been speculation about why Free Associators might have avoided libcom. Why describe us as "erstwhile pro-revolutionaries"? "Pro-revolutionary" suggests somebody who's in favour of revolution, but doesn't quite cut the mustard as a fully-fledged revolutionary actor. Somebody who cheers from the sidelines, but isn't quite in the thick of it. But SpikyMike suggests we're not even in favour of revolution anymore: we're "erstwhile"! This just reminds me of horrible debates in the 1980s and 90s where comrades cast aspersions on your credentials and motives: they disagree with you about something, so they imply you're not really a communist or revolutionary or whatever. It's depressing.

I'm curious about the article's implied faults too. (We were also very surprised it got in. We think this is because of the shifting terrain, because of zombie-liberalism itself. A few years ago The Guardian wouldn't have touched it.)

1. Isn't it a good thing to write in a style familiar to the paper's readers?

2. Yes, we talk about media issues ("Hackgate"). That's because Hackgate was the story of the moment. Perhaps it wouldn't have been published if we'd been talking about some non-media issue. But we also talk about a lot more than this.

3. We discuss neoliberalism's tacit deal between capital and proletariat. Isn't this part of the "material reality of capitalism and class struggle"? I don't think we do really attack neo-liberalism's ideology; rather we discuss the relationship between that ideology and "material reality" and speculate that the break-down of neoliberalism's ideological hegemony will have important material consequences.

4. We hardly talk about protest at all, only in the final few paragraphs. We had 1,100 words only!

OK, onto another, more interesting, question.

zero wrote:
Can the August days of 2011 be considered in terms of moments of excess?

This is a great question and has inspired a post on our freelyassociating.org blog. The gist is copied here:

For us a moment of excess is an intense collective experience, a moment in which we feel — viscerally — our own collective power, a moment in which we glimpse other worlds outside and beyond capitalist social relations. So in this sense there’s no doubt the nights of rioting and looting were moments of excess for many of the participants. They experienced that collective power, they took over the streets, they cocked a snoop to the “Feds”, and they took according to their needs (one half of Marx’s understanding of communism).

But moments of excess aren’t “pure”; they don’t stand “outside” of capitalism. The glimpse of other worlds we get in a moment of excess is from the standpoint of where we are now, i.e. within a fucked-up, capitalist world. And there’s no doubt a lot of fucked-up stuff took place over the four nights of rioting. From relatively minor incidents, such as the robbing of the young Malaysian by people pretending to help him or the pulling of cyclists from their bicycles, to really major instances of fucked-up, anti-social behaviour — the cases of arson and the killing of the three young men in Birmingham. (More pervasively, one outcome maybe more gentrification and more concentration of capital in the retail sector.)

We’re not interested in drawing up criteria which determine whether events qualify as moments of excess, or which can categorise their content as “progressive” or “revolutionary” or “anti-social” or “reactionary” excess. There’s a danger here of simplifying the notion of moments of excess so that they become a glimpse of some pure liberated zone, a taste of milk and honey. The streets of Tottenham, Hackney, etc. were certainly not pure liberated zones.

In many ways, for us, the more interesting question is not: what are moments of excess and how can we get into them? Rather it is: how can we get out of moments of excess? I.e. what happens afterwards, and what is the relationship between a moment of excess and “everyday life”?

And these questions are certainly the ones we need to be addressing right now.

We’re in the midst of a furious, knee-jerk reaction on the part of the British state. Cameron and the Tories are fuming, and magistrates seem to have responded with gusto to the instruction to “disregard the guidelines” and are delivering their “disproportionate” sentences. We need to be able to counter that. In large part, this will depend on what happens from the bottom up, that is, in the neighbourhoods at the heart of the unrest. Will people hunker down and hope that theirs isn’t the next door to be kicked in? Or will they organise in some way, countering the state’s age-old strategy of individualisation? (Out of 1990′s poll tax riot, for example, emerged the Trafalgar Square Defendants’ Campaign, which became a model for political activists over the subsequent two decades.)

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Aug 18 2011 09:54

Er? Am I missing something here? Or have you omitted to tell us what you think about SpikeyMike's quote there? confused

EDIT: above post edited to include the rest.

John Muir's picture
John Muir
Offline
Joined: 18-08-11
Aug 18 2011 09:44
ocelot wrote:
Er? Am I missing something here? Or have you omitted to tell us what you think about SpikeyMike's quote there? confused

Just trying to build up the suspense!
No, really, just getting to grips with the software. I didn't realise saving a draft would also publish.

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Aug 18 2011 10:15

OK, now I see it.

Quote:
"Pro-revolutionary" suggests somebody who's in favour of revolution, but doesn't quite cut the mustard as a fully-fledged revolutionary actor. Somebody who cheers from the sidelines, but isn't quite in the thick of it.

Totally agree. Always makes me think of this:

Re the comparison with the APT campaign, the TSDC etc. While I agree on one level, there is a huge difference in starting point. What I remember as being so impressive in the immediate reaction to the Trafalgar Square riot of 31/03/90 was, despite the media froth the following Sunday and Monday, the media message had absolutely no impact on ordinary people. I was working in a warehouse at the time and when I went back in on the Monday morning, not only was everybody on the shop-floor positive about the riot, but so also were the supervisors and lower management. But bear in mind there had been a huge buildup to the event and virtually everyone was "on-side" before the event itself - hell Radio 1 DJs (Steve Wright in the afternoon - yuck! like i say, it was a warehouse...) were breaking into their broadcast every hour with "the latest updates from the Poll Tax revolution" with news of the storming of town halls all around the country etc. Because of this context, the media manufactured outrage at the riot died off pretty fast when they realised there was no resonance from the public and they were out of step with that fabled mythological beast "public opinion".

Here I think the context is different. There is widespread FUD (Fear Uncertainty & Doubt) over the events of last week, so the paid partisans of panic, paranoia and punition are whipping it up for all it's worth and ambitious judges are using the law as a terror tactic - in the latter case knowing full well their absurd sentences will be overturned later on appeal, but the immediate effect is gained regardless.

bastarx
Offline
Joined: 9-03-06
Aug 18 2011 11:19

Pro-revolutionary isn't normally used as an insult but rather to indicate someone in favour of revolution with revolutionary being someone who actually takes part in a revolution.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Aug 18 2011 15:28

Well I apologise for using the phrase 'erstwhile..' in my last post- a bit unfair. I was only referring to the Guardian piece rather than the whole activity of The FA.

But I actually like the phrase 'pro-revolutionary', as do some other friends and comrades, in so far as it it refers to the distinction between working towards or advocating a social revolution but not actually being a practical part of that desired future social revolution. I am a pro-revolutionary. The sort of 'moments of excess' which The FA refer to are significant but none so far count as a social revolution in my books.

Agree with ocelot regarding the distinction between the polltax riots and the recent riots in terms of responses.

I'm no fan of Negri/Hardt and friends and recognise there are postive contributions from other strands of 'autonomous marxism' such as Dalla Costa and Midnight Notes (and Zerowork?) though my earlier comment still stands for these.

RedHughs
Offline
Joined: 25-11-06
Aug 18 2011 19:26

I think "pro-revolutionary" has a jargonistic tone to it. You can always say "would-be" revolutionary.

Nate's picture
Nate
Offline
Joined: 16-12-05
Aug 19 2011 03:24

hey FA, just wondering if you've had any good responses to the recent book. I hope so, and sorry I haven't gotten you one myself!

John Muir's picture
John Muir
Offline
Joined: 18-08-11
Aug 20 2011 20:14

SpikyMike's apology is accepted. Thanks.

Also thanks for explanation of distinction between a revolutionary and a pro-revolutionary. Though I'm not sure how useful it is. I guess I don't really understand what the difference between "working towards" and "being practical part of"; seems to put a lot of emphasis on revolutionary EVENTS, e.g. the "storming of the winter palace", as opposed to more patient work that went into creating and sustaining soviets. Also, I think it's usually only possible to recognise the revolutionary (or otherwise) nature of events after they've taken place.

I totally agree situation today is very different to that in 1990. We don't have the level of organisation we had then -- the countless anti-poll groups, for a start.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Aug 21 2011 10:41
spikymike wrote:
working towards or advocating a social revolution but not actually being a practical part of that desired future social revolution

IMHO the main problem of 'pro-revolutionary' is that it makes revolution a future event which you are in favour of, shifting revolution from the realm of practice to ideas and reifying (pro-)revolutionary politics as something you have not something you do. In that sense its somewhat Feuerbachian (substituting criticism for revolutionary practice). Insodoing it implies that no contemporary political practice is revolutionary, and therefore either defines (pro-)revolutionary practice as disengaged criticism and advocacy, and/or provides intellectual cover for reformist practice. It would therefore seem anaethema to notions of prefigurative politics.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Aug 21 2011 18:07

Well the term 'pro-revolutionary' does raise a number of issues. Like all such terms we use it has risks associated with it.

It's use certainly intends to mean that the current activity of self-proclaimed revolutionary groups/parties in todays world of modern global capitalism (as understood to involve, in marxist terms, the real domination of capital/real subsumption of labour) is not involved in the practical realisation of any social revolution - by which I mean the destruction of the capitalist state and economy and the attempt to create a new human community - ie the big stuff!

It also implies an important distinction between class resistance to the alienation and human degradation of capitalism , even when such resistance might be considered to take pre-figurative forms and social revolution as defined above. So, yes I suppose it does imply that, at least most, contemporary political practice is NOT revolutionary.

I'm not sure it necessarily allows for '..intellectual cover for reformist practice..' but it might prevent 'pro-revolutionaries' from judging every activity in purely ideological terms and classifying them in a simple either/or, revolutionary or reformist terms, but rather in terms of that old 'Solidarity' phrase of 'meaningful' as ''whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their (our) demystification'', although as individuals we will inevitably, from time to time, do things from some immediate self-interest that might otherwise be thought of as reformist, in-so-far as much of our everyday activity, outside of moments of collective resistance (or of 'excess') is generally reproducing capitalist social relationships anyway, and we should not feel guilty about that.

Whilst I don't think, as some who have posted here do, that all political groups today are just 'rackets', (though some might be) there are a lot of problems associated with the functioning of todays tiny 'pro-revolutionary' groups in their isolation from any kind of mass class resistance let alone the experience of social revolt on the scale of the Russian/German 1917/18 or Spanish 1936 revolutions. It is sometimes hard to distinguish the 'revolutionary' function of such groups from other functions they may perform for their members - as a club, as pschological refuge, dating agency, training course etc.

'Pro-revolutionary' is really meant here to be an expression of humility, a recognition of the enormity of our task and perhaps a reaction to the rather exagerated assumptions of todays political groups/parties as to their importance in the world.

i think I will keep using it for now anyway.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Aug 21 2011 18:45
Spikymike wrote:
I'm not sure it necessarily allows for '..intellectual cover for reformist practice..'

not accusing you of reformist practice btw. i was more thinking of the people (some of whom post here) who have a communist critique of trade unions etc, but conclude since all activity is compromised and no practical groups are revolutionary they may as well build them anyway without regard to revolutionary aims. a sort of reformist councillism i guess.

Spikymike wrote:
It is sometimes hard to distinguish the 'revolutionary' function of such groups from other functions they may perform for their members - as a club, as pschological refuge, dating agency, training course etc.

there's plenty to be said for such critiques fwiw, probably of many organisations, not just political ones (churches, music scenes etc).

Spikymike wrote:
'Pro-revolutionary' is really meant here to be an expression of humility

i get that, but for me it collapses the content of practice with the means. a wage rise may be won by social partnership, making the business case etc, or it may be won by self-organised direct action. the former's reformist, the latter revolutionary in my book (in line with the famous Solidarity 'meaningful action, for revolutionaries...', as well as the 'real movement' sense). now i guess you could just as soon label that 'pro-revolutionary activity' (and then we'd be arguing semantics), but it seems to me the term is associated with a particular political practice of advocating revolution (and revolutionary methods) rather than actively seeking to practice them, propagate them etc. Personally i think there's a place for both advocacy/propaganda and practical activity/organising, but i don't think the term is neutral with respect to them.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Aug 22 2011 17:47

I don't see a need to extend this discussion with JK in particular over terminology, but I would suggest that the 'problems' I referred to of self-proclaimed 'revolutionary' groups, cannot be compared in the same way with other organisations which assist in the reproduction of capitalist social relationships but do not lay claim to any revolutionary credentials.

The fact that such 'revolutionary' groups are isolated in the way I mention, and often for those with some continious history and/or claimed lineage, isolated from mass struggle for extensive periods of time, often leads to their becomming a barrier to potential change by their mode of operation, irrespective of any outward commitment to genuine social revolution. This, in part, because they tend to fulfill other functions for their members in times of relative stabillity for capitalism. Of course this tendency is not equally apparent, to the same degree, in every such group, but does seem to me to be a permanent tendency which we should all be aware of and seek to combat as best we can ( including being prepared to dissolve and reform groups as necessary without concern for group loyalty). I do stress 'mass collective' struggle here as immersion in the minutae of any and every instance of day-to-day struggle by handful's of 'revolutionaries' is not in itself any guarantee of maintaining both revolutionary theory and practice and can equally result in the reformism JK refers to. (Though as an aside I might ask JK why workers should struggle in our preferred 'prefigurative forms' for wage rises if they can be equally well won by co-operation in a 'social partnership' since they will mostly want the wage rise rather than a social revolution - not sure that was the best example of what we were both apparently referring to).

I also referred to some of these issues on the other thread about personal and political conflicts and friendship and it is relevant to some of the Organisation discussion in the FA book which started this thread.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Offline
Joined: 14-03-06
Aug 22 2011 19:16
Spikymike wrote:
(Though as an aside I might ask JK why workers should struggle in our preferred 'prefigurative forms' for wage rises if they can be equally well won by co-operation in a 'social partnership' since they will mostly want the wage rise rather than a social revolution - not sure that was the best example of what we were both apparently referring to)

without wanting to hijack this thread, just quickly i'd say this is the 'paradox of reformism'; the social partnership option is only there if there's a threat of autonomous struggle, otherwise there's nothing to mediate and no reason for bosses to give concessions (there's numerous examples of bosses calling in unions after unofficial action, or collaborationist unions against more militant ones). so in the first instance, it's our only method of struggle. in the second instance, it relies on a combination of the educative potentials of collective action, revolutionary workers making the case for autonomy etc and pointing out the bosses are only talking partnership because of the threat of unmediated action. of course lots of workers won't be convinced overnight, but the reality of capitalism is permanent class conflict (even if it's often one-way traffic), so partnership can't really deliver on its promises. that could create disillusionment and apathy or radicalisation and militancy, i'd argue that a revolutionary organisation with a viable alternative strategy and infrastructure can help increase the proportion in favour of the latter.

Reg Presley
Offline
Joined: 2-08-11
Sep 27 2011 15:20

Stop press: Erstwhile pro-revolutionaries write new article in the Guardian calling for the abolition of wage labour.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/sep/27/ed-miliband-quiet-crisis-capitalism

(apologies to spikeymike, couldn't resist).

rat's picture
rat
Offline
Joined: 16-10-03
May 11 2012 18:23

Just wondered if anyone is involved in the Plan C process/network?

(Started a thread but maybe in the wrong place?)