Mitigating Circumstances

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 21, 2011

“The proletariat’s assault on the citadels of capital only has a chance of success on condition that the proletarian revolutionary movement finishes with democracy once and for all. Democracy is the last refuge of all disavowals and betrayals, because it is the first hope of those who believe in purifying and re-invigorating the current movement which is rotten to its core.”

Jacques Camatte, The Democratic Mystification

In Wisconsin, public sector workers, students, and others more generally occupied the Capitol building to stop it from functioning. They prevented the legislative process, the transition from paper, to voting quorum, to the laws taking effect, and thus manifested a force against democracy. That this was done in the name of democracy illuminates a crisis of subjectivity within the democratic citizen. Acting as a negative force, they could not merely supersede democracy but also make their own power possible. However, something resembling a politics, a position for itself, can only come about through reappropriating violence, acting against an imposed consensus.

Angry and confused bodies filled the empty spaces of the Capitol. They trampled its lawns; they plastered its walls with tape, banners and posters. They banged on whatever they could, screamed and chanted until few other sounds could be heard. Police were called in to regulate the bodies. At first the police did little than fill the space themselves in bewilderment of those who were already present. However, this was never a victory for “workers solidarity.” Physical discipline was superfluous—the bodies regulated themselves. The intensive self-policing, the non-violence trainings which took place, the reality that literally anyone could perform the role of police or marshal, good worker, and good citizen, preempted the question of violence. The collective response only illustrates the obvious necessity of an intensification of conflict and its elaboration through violence.

Any rupture or large-scale manifestation of people reacting to crisis, and thereby being the crisis, will manifest at first as a movement for the return to normality—within a normality that is no longer possible. We will be trapped within the apparatuses and discourses that contain us, but also necessarily exceed these limits through an activity in conflict with these conditions. In Wisconsin, we witnessed a struggle for unions, a struggle for work, and a struggle for democracy, and yet the only path possible besides defeat would be against all the struggle explicitly affirmed–—all that reproduces the relation of capital, all that reproduces the conditions of work and the subjectivity of the worker.

Within spectacular democracy, one can possess any subjectivity, any opinion. One is encouraged to aestheticize and to creatively decorate the void that one inhabits. One can, so long as one contests nothing fundamental to being within the world as capital, so long as one functions to maintain, reproduce and progressively develop the conditions of the commodity, utter all sorts of transgressive opinions To be mobilized by and drift with the flows of capital is without a doubt inescapably political, but it is incapable of elaborating a politics, which is only possible through the contemporariness of an active critical gaze. Democracy diverts this gaze into the game of achieving consensus with one’s objective enemies, thereby neutralizing enmity, and preventing the extreme material consequences of the truth at the core of any politics. Not even a general strike or burning Capitol could be enough to satiate such truth driven to its most extreme consequences.

Ill-defined—and yet far too defined—confused and angry, this force in Wisconsin prompted politicians of the left to act on their behalf or else risk total representative obsolescence. They retreated, stalling the process that would bring the legislation into effect through quorum, both in order to hide from this mob and appeal to it concurrently. It was this stalling that protracted the situation that had appeared to thousands as being on the verge of a general strike, allowing the frustrated desires of those who witnessed the non-existence of the strike to be absorbed into recall campaigns, back into the democratic process, back into the diffusion of routine and work–—that waited to vote and waited to act. Those previously so filled with the necessity to act were absorbed back into an identification with a unitary and empty consensus among irreconcilable and hostile forces, more than their own power.

Though we still work, the workers movement has been dead for quite a long time. It no longer fixes our gaze toward work any more than survival within capitalism does. Reacting to an intensification of exploitation through austerity measures, the tradition of past generations weighed like a nightmare upon those workers without a movement or history. A fleeting and collapsing dream nonetheless still attempted to be pieced together. A response was envisioned that was a mere rehearsal and parade of the form and content of the old workers movement with little acknowledgment of the changing form and content of the current conditions of capital. Forced to remember how to have power amidst the confusion of our present, the civil rights movement, which was neutralized by its very inclusion, became part of this struggle’s nightmare. Through this, the struggle became primarily concerned with the inclusion of an always-expanding list of identities and corresponding oppressions—via rights—within the representational process and juridical apparatuses of democracy. The constellation made up of those who have been more than frustrated by the inadequacy of these events must come to recognize that a study of the past demonstrates that we are not infinitely confined to an eternal present, against a particular mode of being or a particular us. We are directed by the past toward a negative and inessential nature, and the glaring impossibility of such an inclusion – toward our irreducibility. And we must remember, most of all, that our act of remembering is made possible through the process of annihilating this world.