A communique to the participants of the attempted general strike in Oakland on November 2, 2011.
We are the consequence. Thus reads the poetry of the moment, spraypainted on the side of a dumpster-barricade outside of Occupy Oakland in the hours before it was besieged by hundreds of cops and destroyed. A threat, a promise, but more than that the phrase means that what is happening here in Oakland is not just a ephemeral explosion, not just another one of the twice-yearly riots that passes through the city like a comet. No, it is part of a sequence. There are consequences to the things we do. Our days are no longer a collection of mere happenstance and triviality, no longer a random distribution of inconsequential moments. Finally, what happens happens for a reason, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this reason appears as purest irrationality. Finally, what happens is what must happen, even if from the perspective of the dominant order this necessity appears as pure contingency. There are consequences. We are those consequences. We are the pure products of a political and economic system that can no longer guarantee for us even the mere survival upon which its own survival depends, that can't even provide us with the unbearable jobs and mind-numbing schoooling of decades past. Nor can the American state any longer guarantee social peace – not even if it could afford to imprison another 2 million people. The consequences have arrived. After orbiting the world as riots and general strikes, massive urban encampments and near-revolutions, those consequences have finally come home to the decaying US cities from which the crisis first emerged.
But we are more than simple symptoms of capitalism's collapse. We are also the agents of consequence. We are the hinge between if and then. We are what makes what must happen happen. If we were driven to occupy Oscar Grant Plaza by the nature of the conditions, then it is also true that we did so intentionally, with clarity about our purposes, and with minimal equivocation. We established a space premised upon free giving and receiving rather than exchange, a space where anyone could find a meal or a tent, attend a workshop or political conversation, and, if they wanted, participate in the maintenance of the occupation in numerous different ways (though participation was never a requirement). We did this with open hostility to the cops and the city government, refusing their entreaties to negotiate on multiple occasion. Such a commune can only result from all kinds of care, attention, willfulness, decision and effort. This space was, in many regards, the opposite of the spontaneous. And yet, without an openness to the spontaneous, without a sensitivity to the order of what happens – in other words, “material conditions” – it could never have come about. The crisis is the necessary but not the sufficient condition of the commune. When we tore down the fence the city erected to keep us from the returning to the plaza, we did so not only because we had to, not only because we wanted to, but because we chose to.
Curiously, nihilism has become the philosophical vogue among radicals at the precise historical moment when, for once, people can do things that actually matter. Of course, if you plays the odds, nihilism is the safest bet. Most of what we do doesn't matter. Chances are that capitalism will be succeeded by something as bad as it or worse or by centuries of total ruin. Furthermore, any sober assessment of the enemy and the state of those who have avowed their total opposition to the status quo can only lead one to conclude that any force capable of establishing some other way of living must emerge not as a result of willful, voluntary antagonism but in response to new historical developments, new “objective conditons” among people who are not now, in any sense, declared enemies of what exists. But what such a standpoint misses is that we are history, too. We are those objective conditions. This is why the moment of crisis is significant, because it is a moment when the spell of “objectivity” is broken, when the myriad apparatuses and institutions designed to ensure that what we do doesn't matter – from the police to the universities to the media – stop functioning, when they can no longer fulfill their task of neutralizing, displacing, misrepresenting or repressing antagonism. Crisis is the moment where what we do matters because the apparatuses for containing antagonism have failed. Because there are consequences.
Crisis is the condition. It is the conditional term in the proposition, the if phrase, but crisis is not itself capable of producing consequences, of turning an if into a then, a condition into a consequence. So many people – friends and strangers – who did what needed to be done, who recognized the opportunity! None of this just happens. It takes tremendous effort, preparation, intelligence. It is the fruit of years of conversations and friendships and projects. Though none of this will ever be acknowledged openly, and no names will be shared, each of us knows the dedication and ferocity and courage of our friends, as well as the incredible things done by people whose names we will never know. We know what it took: from the most mundane tasks to the most thrilling, all of it necessary.
Two years ago, “occupation” was adventurism or vanguardism, the suicidal plunge of the lunatic fringe that barricaded university buildings or rioted in the consumer corridors of university districts or marched insanely onto freeways. The signs read we are the crisis because we were, we were the first expression of a crisis become general, the insane children of an insane world. But now we are no longer merely the crisis. We have grown up; we have graduated (even those of us who never went to college or were already quite grown). We are the consequence. We have moved from the futureless universities into the presentless squares of our cities, from the sites of the formation of labor-power toward the place of its circulation, and finally, with the general strike, the place of exploitation. Small though they were, those flares lit the way: they provided moments of theorization and practical elaboration which have pointed now, finally, to the centers of all our cities. The slogan Occupy Everything, once absurd, is now banal. Though occupation has up until now remained bound by semi-public property – university buildings and parks – the general strike now looming promises the possibility of taking occupation to private property itself. We can start taking the things we really want and need: the buildings we will need to survive the winter months, for example. There will be consequences to what we do on the November 2. Let's make them as brutal and beautiful as possible.
The Society of Enemies
Originally posted: November 1, 2011 at IndyBay